DAN Brown’s 2004 novel The Da Vinci Code was, and still is, hugely successful with readers around the globe, brought to even greater public attention by the furore it caused among Catholics for its storyline of Jesus and Mary Magdalen being married and having a child.
Two years later a film, starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou and Paul Bettany, was similarly popular and remains a “favourite film of all time” for many.
So it’s little surprise that Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel saw it as a perfect source for a theatrical adaptation, after their success with The Girl on the Train and Rachel’s Birdsong re-working. They had found a formula which worked, and The Da Vinci Code, with its symbols, chases, murders and dramatic locations, was an obvious candidate.
The show comes to Bath as fourth stop on a lengthy UK tour which continues into November. And judging by the audience on Tuesday, some of whom gave it the (now frequent) standing ovation, they, with director Luke Sheppard, have pulled it off.
Anyone who has seen The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time will recognise the style of set as soon as they enter the theatre. The stage is open, as a voice warns, in French, of the closure of the doors in 15 – 10 – 5 minutes … perhaps to increase tension.
Then the ten members of the cast, heads down in loose hoodies, mill onto the stage as it becomes clear that there is a body laid out in front of Leonardo da Vinci’s
famous Vitruvian Man. We are in the Louvre, and murder has been committed. Visiting American professor Robert Langdon is lecturing about symbolism. Then he’s at the Louvre. Then two hoodies are drawn back to reveal police officers searching for the murderer.
Before long the da Vinci image is replaced by another, the walls are covered with light-written squiggles, letters and numbers. A Fibonacci sequence is rapidly moved around to make sense, and explained. The technology is amazing, as it was in The Curious Incident …
This production manages to be both rushed and lacking in tension. The murderous monk, Silas, says that everyone always recoils from him. In the book, and the film, he is albino, but not as played by Joshua Lacey in the stage version, so knowledge of the original would help. His characterisation is full of flagellation and proclamations of Christian faith, but lacks the obsessive intensity that made Bettany’s performance both terrifying and pathetic.
Nigel Harman is Langdon, played as a sort of Indiana Jones-cum-Richard Hannay. Hannah Rose Caton makes her professional debut as Sophie Neveu, the catalyst for all the action, with Danny John-Jules as the eccentric English hunter of the Holy Grail.
The best moments come from Debra Michaels, both as the efficient bank secretary and the singer – what a voice!
The brilliant technology often detracts from the story, and the requirement for it to be accommodated on 35 stages around the country inevitably means that there will be stretching and compressing of the imagery.
The idea of a chorus, theatrically proven over the centuries, needs careful handling. Slouching hoodies may not be the best solution.
Devotees will probably love the show, as they do all things Brown-daVinci. A better script and a clearer sense of identity and this could be an exciting and compelling piece of theatre.
The tour is at Bath until 5th February, moving to Plymouth Theatre Royal from 7th to 12th February an returning to the region at Southampton Mayflower from 26th to 30th April, the Hall for Cornwall in Truro from 3rd to 8th October and Swindon’s Wyvern Theatre from 24th to 29th October.