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The Driver's Seat

Muriel Spark adapted by Laurie Sansom
National Theatre of Scotland
Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Gabriel Quigley as Mrs Jo'Burg and Morven Christie as Lise Credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

One of Muriel Spark's personal favourite novels is brought to the stage by the National Theatre of Scotland in a way that does nothing to soften the blow of this dark tale for the audience. It could definitely be described as like experiencing a nightmare.

The play takes you on a journey with Lise (Morven Christie) as she goes off on holiday only to have to deal with some truly horrible members of the opposite sex. Christie provides us with an interesting, strange, but not vulnerable protagonist, presenting us with much more than just a straightforward damsel-in-distress figure.

The production uses a mix of live video, improvised props and film noir feel to disorientate the audience, giving us the giddy feeling of entering Lise's ever more hellish journey. With no interval, constant action and changes of focus, it keeps you on the edge of your seat. The office setting and props keep things chillingly familiar.

Spark has created a menagerie of creepy male characters, not least the ever-present Bill (Ryan Fletcher). An obsessive personality, lecherously coming on to Lise and also constantly wittering on about the virtues of a Yang not Ying diet.

Later, she is befriended by Carlo (Ivan Castiglione); the cast is international as the novel takes place across Europe, but chiefly Italy. Carlo is at first friendly but turns about to be even more intent on molesting Lise than Bill.

The two main women Lise meets in her travels, pixie-sweet Mrs Fiedke (Sheila Reid) and brash Mrs Jo'Burg (Gabriel Quigley), are of little help to Lise, but do offer some light relief with their ridiculous characters.

The ending is no surprise as Lise's murder investigation forms the backdrop to the play's action, with a eerily effective transparent police station wall gliding around the stage. That doesn't, however, mean it isn't shocking.

The Driver's Seat is not a long piece, which is probably just as well, not because it isn't well acted or cleverly put together, it is, but it is a seriously emotional ride. So much is packed into the piece as well that I am sure discussions about its meaning will go on well after the curtain call.

A wonderful reminder of Spark's darker side and also a much more full-on confrontation with the world of misogny and predatory males, which has by no means disappeared since the nineteen seventies.

Reviewer: Seth Ewin