Brideshead Reviewed (Yet More)

The Daily Mail has posted a brief but largely positive review of the Brideshead Revisited stage adaptation that opened last week in York. The review is by Patrick Marmion who, after praising the production and performances (“serious, witty and elegant”), concludes:

… it was brave to stage the book without enlisting the magnificent Palladian backdrop — let alone the rose-tinted views of Oxford, Venice and Tangiers. But that doesn’t stop dramatist Bryony Lavery encompassing Waugh’s sprawling grandeur.

She relates it as impressionist memories in this handsome show for the re-opening of the Theatre Royal after its ÂŁ6 million refit. So one cannot just zone out in a warm bath of fragrant nostalgia. Instead we grapple with Waugh’s guilty Roman Catholicism — and designer Sara Perks’ set is almost Protestant in its minimalism…The closing death throes of Lord Marchmain feel interminable, but overall this is an engaging show that keeps faith with Waugh’s seriousness as much as his dreaminess.

Two other reviews are more reserved. Both find the staging of the play to be excellent but have problems with the uneven script and direction: Adam Bruce in A Younger Theatre and Heather Cawte in YorkMix.

The BBC, meanwhile, on Radio 4 has broadcast, not a review, but an interview of the playwright, Bryony Lavery, who adapted the novel for the stage. This was transmitted yesterday on the program Front Row, presented by Samira Ahmed.  Ahmed begins by asking how Lavery dealt with the problem of the public perception that Castle Howard, where previous adaptations were filmed, was identified as the setting of the story. This  challenge was addressed, according to Lavery, by creating an “air stately home,” enlisting the imagination of the audience to do much of the work of recreating it on stage. She  describes in some detail how she managed this same problem of depicting the scenes in Venice on a bare stage, using the movements and body language of the cast members to create images in the minds of the audience.

When asked how she dealt with the need to “pare down” the story to fit into the time limits of a workable stage performance, Lavery explained that she used the cascading series of memories recalled by Charles Ryder to move from scene to scene. It required 5 drafts to reach a finished product. Finally, Ahmed asks why Lavery has used the practice of adaptation so frequently, given that she has also written successful original stories for stage productions. Lavery answers that the use of a book provides the opportunity to work with an “absolutely wonderful writer” such as Evelyn Waugh, take a plot and characters that are already fully worked out and then transpose them to the stage, allowing the scriptwriter to concentrate on theatrical elements.

The program is now available worldwide via the internet on BBC iPlayer.

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