Simon Reade, adapted from the novel by Penelope Lively
Theatre Royal Bath Productions
The Lowry, Salford
Jane Asher’s character, in this stage adaptation of Penelope Lively’s Booker-winning novel, may declare she wants to write “a history of the world” but what is actually delivered is a much less enthralling romantic fiction.
It’s one from that ever-growing library of sprawling stories, set either side of the Second World War, and usually given an entire TV series to develop its characters, set out its plot, and engross a captive audience.
Restrained here, in two 50-minute acts, adapter Simon Reade—who has considerable form in such work—captures only a Lively essence of the original, but to pretend it is stage drama is asking too much.
Characters seem to talk in pronouncements, rather than civil conversations, while set designer Timothy Bird has done his best, on a black box of a stage, to create a sense of time and place with projected images on eight square frames behind the cast.
It is nevertheless a cold, dark setting for what is a cold, dark story about passion—both orthodox and deviant.
The overall effect is one of an illustrated talk as Claudia (Ms Asher’s central character) slips in and out of her death bed to recount a life story spent mixing with two-dimensional characters from the Home Counties, through war-torn Egypt, to 1950s London.
The rest of the six-strong cast do their best with 16 roles between them, but there’s really only a trace of individual personalities. Dressed in black and grey they never stand a chance of competing with the flame-haired actress who elegantly shoulders the full burden of both the script and the drama.
Perhaps the necessary intensity of the story would be better achieved in a much less cavernous setting than this venue’s main stage?
Reviewer: David Upton