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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
THE RED BARN
at the National (Lyttelton)

STORM OF JEALOUSY
By JOHN NATHAN

  (L to R) Mark Strong, Elizabeth Debicki and Hope Davis / Ph: Manuel Harlan

It is a rare thing for a new David Hare play to open and for the least interesting thing about it to be that it was written by David Hare.

But given that this veteran British state-of-the-nation playwright is not this time exercised by some pressing political issue of the day, but has instead adapted a little-known thriller by novelist Georges Simenon, and taking into account the fact that this show stars stage and screen star Mark Strong and the striking Elizabeth Debicki (Hugh Laurie's trophy lover in The Night Manager), and not forgetting that the director of this production is theatre wunderkind Robert Icke, well, it's perhaps no surprise that Hare doesn't get top billing.

The result created by this array of eye-catching talent is a sometimes-gripping, at other times drifting, psychological thriller in the noir tradition. 

Four partygoer's struggle home through a raging snowstorm. By the time they reach their destination, an isolated Connecticut house that is home to Donald and Ingrid Dodd (Strong and Hope Davis), the quartet has become three. The missing man is Ray, much to the distress of Ray's wife – now widow – Mona (Debicki).

Much of the play's uninterrupted hour and 50 minutes is an attempt to address that most crucial question posed by homicide detectives. Cui bono? Who benefits? Not that there is any actual evidence of murder here. But Simenon's underlying premise is that even accidental death can be willed, wanted and wished for. And that guilt and culpability follows as surely as if a knife had been plunged into a back.

Icke's production cleverly draws from cinema of the time. And the result is a visual coup. Each scene is tightly framed á la The Thomas Crown Affair, and the tension generated by the show is (almost) that of a Hitchcock movie, complete with Debcki's ice-cool blonde. The simplicity of plot allows for an exploration of psychology. Flashbacks to the party reveal enough betrayal and jealousy to motivate a dozen murders. Yet the pace of the evening is often ponderous. Sometimes you just want somebody to shoot someone to get things moving.

But it's beautifully performed. As the newly widowed Mona, Australian actress Debicki goes about her work with mesmerising poise. Physically she has the grace, pallor and sensuality of the white, stone sculpture of a female nude in her New York apartment, where, at the strange behest of his watchful wife, lawyer Donald helps with her affairs – legal and the other kind. And it is during this transition, from dependable family man to adulterer, that Strong goes from meek to murderous.

A veteran of spy movies (Tinker Tailor…, The Imitation Game) Strong has cemented his reputation as one of the most compelling stage actors of his generation with his Eddie Carbone in Ivo van Hove's all-conquering production of Miller's A View from the Bridge. He has much less to work with here. Psychologically speaking, Donald is a simpleton compared to Miller's anti-hero.

Still, Strong superbly depicts the awakening of a hitherto dormant darkness. Donald is apparently happy and content until jealousy is awakened by one accidental moment. And the change to his interior life is as radical as if somebody rearranged his organs. It also unlashes a storm in his mind every bit as deadly as the one that killed his best friend.

 


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