Brideshead Reviewed

The stage production of Brideshead Revisited that opened last week at York’s Theatre Royal has been reviewed in several media. The reviewers like the settings and production but largely express disappointment with the script and direction. Claire Allfree in today’s Daily Telegraph found that

for all the merits of Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of Waugh’s heavily scented hymn to vanished youth, in this new English Touring Theatre co-production the novel’s ineffable poetry remains tantalisingly just out of reach… Those first giddy, wine-soaked weeks and months [in Oxford] are beautifully conveyed, thanks in no small part to the dynamic between Brian Ferguson’s Charles, all stiff upper lip and buttoned up heart, and Christopher Simpson’s combustible Sebastian, a dangerous mix of puppyish charm and volcanic petulance. The homosexual nature of their relationship, such a delicately ambiguous thread within the novel, is here regrettably made explicit …If Sara Parks’s suggestive set design cleverly resembles the luscious ebb and flow of Waugh’s prose, Lavery’s text conversely often feels like a series of dramatic bullet points… Yet if the sort of characters Waugh was writing about have these days fallen deeply out of fashion, this adaptation is a powerful reminder that faith and money are no protection against the terrors of disillusionment.

Writing in the Yorkshire Post, Sarah Freeman comes to much the same conclusion. While the  production

has style in spades it sadly lacks substance…Bryony Lavery… is undoubtedly talented, but here the epic nature of Waugh’s novel seems to slip through her fingers…[The cast] can’t fully rescue a script which appears to give up exhausted, long before the two and a half hours are up…While this production has ambition, which has to be good news for the theatre’s future, it has none of [the novel’s] original subtlety. Leaving the auditorium one woman remarked to her friend, ‘Maybe you had to be Catholic to really get it’. Well I am and I didn’t.

Natasha Tripney in the theatrical trade journal The Stage raises similar issues:

Damian Cruden’s production lacks … confidence and skill…and never really pins down the spirit of the book… What we get… is a series of choppy scenes performed against a black backdrop…As if to compensate for the minimal staging, there are some very broad performances, lots of over-done stuttering and drunken weaving,..This being Brideshead, it’s not long before we’re wallowing in communion wine. Interestingly Lavery’s adaptation feels more sure-footed in these later scenes, when its grappling with ideas of grace and faith… The intricate web of attraction between the characters is hard to discern, their world impenetrable. You can’t revisit a place you’ve never been. 

Choppy and frustrating page-to-stage adaptation of Waugh’s classic novel.

The article in The Stage is accompanied by a series of 26 photos taken from the performance. Finally, a blogger, Julian Cole in his weblog Man on a Ledge, also thought the staging was admirable and the performances strong but the script uneven. His bottom line: 

It is hard to believe that this production of Brideshead Revisited would have worked at all as well on the old stage, and York is certainly blessed with a splendid new/old theatre. Do go along: there is very much to savour here, and this theatre deserves our support.




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