brideshead cast

Brideshead Revisited

Malvern Theatres

****

EVELYN Waugh classic novel has never previously been interpreted for the stage, so we were privileged to see this world premiere production in Malvern.

Bryony Lavery’s adaptation was produced by Damian Cruden and was immediately striking for its design features.

It established the period drama through the use of excellent costumes and a few minimalist items of furniture or properties but made no attempt to create box sets and such elements to depict the lavish scenes of this novel, including the imposing country mansion.

The use of flat black screens that moved to create various shapes and openings, coupled with sensitive and varied lighting and sound effects, was highly successful in creating variety and establishing changes of time and setting.

The plot centres on the character of Charles Ryder who during the Second World War is an army officer. He allows his mind to drift back over the years to his earliest links with Lord Sebastian Flyte at university in Oxford, which led to his involvement with the rich aristocrat family who owned Brideshead Castle in Wiltshire.

Charles begins the drama as a convinced atheist who finds the Roman Catholic convictions of  Sebastian’s family, the Marchmains, rather outdated and irritating. The Marchmains family are ‘severely flawed’: Lord Marchmain became a Catholic to marry his wife but is an adulterer who separates from her.

Sebastian has a lifelong struggle with alcohol and drifts off to Morocco and eventually Tunisia.

Julia marries and then separates from a Canadian businessman before ‘living in sin’ with Charles Ryder whose own marriage has failed.

Though Lady Marchmain and the youngest daughter, significantly named Cordelia, remain faithful and practising Catholics, the family is generally quite dysfunctional!

This introduced one of the main themes of the novel: grace.  Lord Marchmain has a deathbed conversion or renewal of his faith and this has an effect on Charles whose atheism is ultimately dissolved as he makes some kind of act of faith at the close of the story.

Managing this complex and extended story in a two-hour stage presentation is a challenge which this production successfully embraces with pace and energy, enriched by colourful and bold characterisations.

Charles Ryder himself is a relatively straight character and is played with genuine conviction by Brian Ferguson. The final scene is a delicate one to play but he carries it off sensitively and manages to provide a genuinely moving scene.

Around the central characters of Lord Marchmain (Paul Shelley), Julie Flyte (Rosie Hilal), Sebastian Flyte (Christopher Simpson), the youthful Cordelia Flyte, played with refreshing youthfulness by Kiran Sonia Sawar, and Lady Marchmain (Caroline Harker), we have some varied and strong characterisations played by Nick Blakely (Anthony Blanche, Father Mackay and Samgrass), Shuna Snow (Bridey Flyte, Kurt and Rex Mottram) in particular.

This is a strong team who work together very smoothly and maintain essential pace to ensure that a fairly lengthy play does not drag.

This is an excellent show that undertakes a considerable challenge and succeeds in no small measure because of the powerful visual impact of the design. The lighting is subtle and compliments the largely bare stage and sliding screens to provide variety and a strong visual impact.

This in turn is supported by an excellent musical score that provides a varied and sensitive atmosphere in all scenes without being obtrusive.

The scene on the deck of the ship in the Atlantic in stormy seas was very effectively choreographed and designed and epitomised the simplicity, clarity and boldness of the effects.

The first half was a trifle ‘bitty’ in seeking to introduce a wide range of elements; the second half was particularly poignant. This is a sophisticated and powerful show that deserves to have good houses despite its somewhat selective appeal. To 04-06-16

Tim Crow

31-05-16 

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