The lovemaking scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Nicolas Roeg’s film adaptation of Don’t Look Now regularly scores highly in polls of the most erotic sequences in mainstream cinema . . . which is strange, as Roeg shot and edited it to give coldness and distance to the camera’s eye, to steep the act itself in desperation and foreboding. The corresponding moments in Lucy Bailey’s stage production are likewise chilly, but this is principally because the production as a whole is fatally low on atmosphere.
Adaptor Nell Leyshon works from Daphne Du Maurier’s original short story rather than the film. Here, John and Laura are holidaying in Venice to try to renew their relationship after the death from meningitis of their daughter; they meet a pair of elderly sisters, one of whom is blind but psychic and tells John that he too has second sight. The clairvoyant’s visions of the couple’s dead daughter, clad in scarlet, console Laura; John is more unsettled by what he sees. Meanwhile, a killer stalks the alleys and bridges of Venice, generating a different motif of red.
The story concerns the overlapping of contrasting worlds: English/Venetian, land/water, past/future, this life/the next. Its keynote is unease. This is, alas, not best served by having a virtually bare stage. Bailey uses lighting effects to suggest the range of vistas and textures of Venice, but suggestion does not fill the void. Nor, impressive as they are in themselves, do the ambient soundscapes by J. Peter Schwalm and Nell Catchpole evoke anything in particular. Restaurant tables and hotel beds truck across the stage very slowly in opposite directions, suggesting gondolas that pass in the night, a more portentous transit, one of those abstract oppositions . . . who knows?
Such a minimal approach might work well in a studio production, but in the Lyric Hammersmith’s main house the primary impression is one of deficiency. Consequently, Simon Paisley Day and Susie Trayling as John and Laura are never provided with a palpable context in which to work effectively on their own moods, and on ours as we watch them. I’m afraid the most disturbing aspect of the evening for me was the consciousness that directly behind me was a woman in a scarlet coat.
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