Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Revisited again, this milk cow gives little

BRIDESHEAD Revisited, then: you’ve seen the film, seen the TV series and might even have read

BRIDESHEAD Revisited, then: you’ve seen the film, seen the TV series and might even have read the book. How else can this novel be milked? How about a stage play?

And maybe there is a stage play in Evelyn Waugh’s semi-serious, semi-satirical novel about life in the aristocratic stratosphere, but I don’t think it’s this one. The milk cow has run dry for the time being.

Speaking of time: I checked my watch and this play lasted two and a half hours but it seemed like five.

I don’t like to be heavy with people who you know have worked themselves stupid to create a piece of art and to bring it to us.

An immense amount of work has gone into adapting Waugh’s prose, selecting themes and making a narrative structure out of it which will apply to the stage.

Then the stage designer created a backdrop of a cyclorama which changed colour and was used as a kind of changing mobile picture frame but rarely with anything in it.

The director needed to draw out performances from the actors — mostly successfully — at the same time as organising a small football crowd of characters.

So, a lot has been invested in this, but it kept missing. There were too many scenes, not enough depth of character, not enough to help us understand how the story was going — unless you’d read the book, you would have floundered.

There were interesting ideas which, while not articulated in the book, could legitimately be interpreted from it.

For instance, the two Oxford undergraduates Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder are depicted having a sexual relationship — very public school, very aristocratic.

But in some ways the play suffered from the worst aspects of adaptation: it tried to keep to the text while animating it on stage.

A book can spend paragraphs and pages setting a scene and that can be achieved in TV and film with a simple edit showing scenery, a building, a cityscape which serve to tell us exactly where we are and what the weather and the environment is like.

None of that was available to this production and very little was done to redress it.

Disappointing, then — and this was English Touring Theatre, which makes it all the more surprising,

Still, if you’re a Waugh fanatic you might get something out of it.

Until Saturday.

Review: Mike Rowbottom

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