Vertigo

Adapted by Jonathan Holloway from the novel The Living and the Dead by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

Nottingham Playhouse

(2008)

Review by Steve Orme

Vertigo: a sensation of dizziness resulting from a disorder of the sense of balance.

Jonathan Holloway: playwright who some theatregoers must think suffers from a loss of balance for adapting one of the greatest films of all time for the stage.

Giles Croft: artistic director with a penchant for producing psychological thrillers that are aimed at taking theatre to a different level.

The first offering in Nottingham Playhouse's 60th anniversary season is an ambitious adaptation of a work which inspired one of Alfred Hitchcock's finest movies.

Vertigo marks the resumption of a partnership between Holloway, Croft and designer Jamie Vartan which previously spawned Because It's There in 2000 and Angels Among The Trees four years later.

Holloway went back to the original novel The Living and the Dead by France's most successful post-war crime writers Boileau and Narcejac for his inspiration.

He starts the adaptation from the point at which the central character Roger Flavieres is sent for psychiatric treatment. Flavieres had left the police force after a fellow officer died when he fell from a roof. Flavieres' vertigo meant he couldn't make a move to save him.

As Paris prepares for war, an acquaintance asks Flavieres to keep tabs on his wife Madeleine. Flavieres falls for her but he suffers torment when she commits suicide.

Five years later, when he seems to be getting his life back together, he's taken to the brink of insanity when he visits a cinema and sees in the newsreel Madeleine who's supposedly come back to life.

The audience are spectactors in a hospital lecture-room in post-war Paris when psychologist Dr Jacques Ballard is giving a "demonstration about madness, fakery and a very serious crime". Flavieres is trapped in the past and is hypnotised to re-enact his petrifying story.

Ben Keaton gives a marvellous portrayal of Flavieres, initially shambling across the stage, a pitiful, pyjama-clad figure, later completely fixated with femme fatale Madeleine to the point of obsession. His deterioration from a respected lawyer into an uncontrollable, tormented individual is totally credible.

David Acton, who gave a memorable performance at Nottingham Playhouse last year as Doctor Gortler in I Have Been Here Before, shines as Ballard who brings a touch of showbiz to the hospital lecture as he gets Flavieres to disclose his innermost thoughts.

Phillipa Peak proves amazingly adept in a dual role, hauntingly good as the mysterious Madeleine and totally different as Renee, the woman Flavieres inconceivably believes is a reincarnation of his dead lover.

The fourth member of the cast, Robin Bowerman, turns his hand to a number of character roles as well as the nurse Gratin. He switches from one to another with ease, coping comfortably with each part.

There's strong direction from Croft who injects plenty of pace and tension which sustain you through the wordy yet essential parts of the script.

In less accomplished hands Vertigo might have been an unbalanced production which was a poor imitation of the film. But Holloway and Croft turn it into a dizzy triumph. It's gripping stuff.

"Vertigo" runs until September 27th