Thursday, November 05, 2015


at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

for The Reviews Hub

Daphne du Maurier's chilling tale is given a strikingly theatrical outing at the Queen's this autumn.
Neil Leyshon's adaptation from 2007 moves restlessly around Venice and Torcello. Simon Jessop boldly sets everything in a beautiful, architectural frame (designer Norman Coates).Two alleyways lead down steps to a canal-side piazza; between them a little bridge, with the waterway beneath. It is through the mist on the water that the bed materialises, the hotel desk, the table at the trattoria. And in front of them is a patch of water, its rippling reflections washing the ochre walls, a constant reminder of the drowned daughter whose loss hangs over this nostalgic trip to Venice.
The two tourists, racked by guilt in different ways, are Tom Cornish as John, in denial and reluctantly psychic, and Charlotte Powell outstanding as Laura, tormented by the past, painful memories re-awakened by the weird twin sisters (Gillian Cally and Tina Gray, their intense stillness a superb force in this staging).
Jessop's imaginative interpretation uses live music – Abide with Me, Requiem Aeternam, mandolin, accordion – sound (the soda syphon another trigger for trauma) and projected images – Tom and Laura in the family picture replaced by the sisters appearing through the sightless window frames. Less is more: the hotel simply its signboard. A real frisson to end Act One, and a myriad of telling details and symbols: polishing the knives in the restaurant, the cracks in the stucco.
The moods of the piece are meticulously managed with sound and light. The two tables, one sinister, one frivolous, establish the plot arc right at the beginning. The cathedral at Torcello is a gilded vision. And there are the mysterious figures, the diminutive form in red, and the portentous cloaked apparition with his plague mask and his censer.
The erotic is not forgotten – a ceiling camera in the hotel bedroom – and the show is linguistically impressive, too, with John repeatedly annoyed that his efforts to speak the lingo are ignored, and the natives speaking very passable Italian amongst themselves, adding both to the sense of the mysterious, the unknown, and to the Venetian atmosphere.
A strong vision, with chiaroscuro stage pictures recalling old masters, and a clear narrative line through the plot twists and the mysteries, make this version of Du Maurier's tale of the supernatural a satisfying evening in the theatre, despite the improbable events and thin characters.

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