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Don't Look Now

Daphne Du Maurier, adapted by Nell Leyshon
Lyric, Hammersmith
(2007)

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These days, most people know Don't Look Now from the Nicolas Roeg film that starred Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. In fact, the tale started out two years earlier in 1971 as a short story by Daphne Du Maurier, creator of Rebecca.

The team of Lucy Bailey and Nell Leyshon, who had a success with Comfort Me with Apples, have now adapted the story for the stage in a production that, like The Caretaker at the Tricycle, has transferred from Sheffield to London. Miss Bailey already has an impressive record with adaptations of steamy films for the stage, including Baby Doll and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

The play is set in and around Venice where a youngish couple John and Laura have ended up, as they travel to escape the grief caused by the death of their young daughter.

They are still suffering but beginning to come to terms with their loss, when they meet a pair of weird sisters, elderly twins with occult powers that have been sharpened by the blindness from which one of them suffers. They unsettle the bereaved couple by suggesting that contact can be made with the dead girl and, further, that John has psychic powers.

Mike Britton has created a suitably spooky set, which features a pair of conveyor belts that move furniture in opposite directions at a pace that would frustrate a lazy snail. During the first half of the play, the plot moves with similar lack of urgency.

Eventually, the Noël Coward-like John (Simon Paisley Day) and Susie Trayling as his wife face further crises as the sisters tell them to leave town in order to avoid an unknown fate; and their other child falls ill in Hampstead. This spurs them into a dramatic argument enlivening the action immensely. The gist is that John as a man interiorises his emotions while his wife, as her gender should, talks them out.

After Laura leaves for London and their son, the drama becomes more supernatural, as an increasingly haunted John either hallucinates or sees into the future. This eventually leads to a twist in the tale that probably works better on the page than the stage.

Simon Paisley Day impresses as John but the pacing never really recovers from the lack of activity in the turgid early stages of an adaptation that drags its way through 2¼ hours, only enlivened by occasional moments of excitement and a crew of comic Italians.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher