A little rushed to start, but settles down into a pleasantly thrilling pace.
📍 King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
📅 TUE 05 APR TO SAT 09 APR 2022
🕖 Evenings 7.30pm | Matinees Wed & Sat 2.30pm
🕖 Running time (approx.): 2 hours 25 minutes (includes interval)
👥 Book: Rachel Wagstaff & Duncan Abel
👥 Set and costume design: David Woodhead
👥 Director: Luke Sheppard
💰 From £19.50
🎭 Audio Captioning: Thu 07 April 7.30PM
🎭 Audio Description: Sat 09 April 2.30PM
🎭 BSL – Interpreted – Sat 09 April 2.30PM – Nicolle Murdoch
Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ made booksellers around the world extremely happy back in 2003, ending the year second in global sales to some obscure writer by the name of J.K. Rowling. The enduring popularity of Brown’s labyrinthine murder-mystery has spawned sequels, movie adaptations, and now, 19 years later, a stage play. The Intellectual property alone is probably sufficient to put bums on seats, but can the play one-up those renditions which have gone before, by achieving critical success?
The answer is…probably.
The play, adapted by Rachel Wagstaff & Duncan Abel, follows the main beats of the novel, which I will not fully elucidate, so fear no spoilers. Professor Robert Langdon (Nigel Harman), Harvard symbologist, is in Paris to give a lecture of religious imagery. Whilst in town, the curator of the Louvre, Jacques Saunière (Andrew Lewis) is brutally murdered. The good Professor is duly summoned to Paris’s most famous museum to account for some very strange messages left by the dying victim. Tagged for the killer by Police captain Bezu Fache (Alpha Kargbo), Langdon will make his escape thanks to police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Hannah Rose Caton). To Neveu, Langdon isn’t a suspect, but may be the only person able to solve the murder. Pursued by police, and by a mysterious & murderous monk, Silas (Joshua Lacy), they will uncover ancient secrets, and unlock centuries old puzzles encoded by secret societies, and one Leonardo Da Vinci.
The first 5 minutes of the action are unquestionably rushed, and there are too many bodies on stage to let the audience discover the murder, and hence mystery without some head-scratching. Director Luke Shephard choreographs a tight cast, often sitting them out on side benches, hoods up and turned away like so many menacing subs on a shadowy side-line. It creates an ominous tone, but the group chanting of the first clues found muddies the message needlessly. Fortunately, after this, the pace slows towards ripping yarn, and mostly stays there until the closing moments. This adaptation certainly benefits from the 2 hour run-time, stripping out a great deal of Brown’s sometimes ponderous exposition, placing the narrative onus on story, rather than explanation.
The two protagonists, including Harman’s somewhat undefined American accent — the rest of the cast use their given accents — are certainly personable, and more than adequate to their roles, but the star performance of the night comes from Danny John-Jules as Sir Leigh Teabing, billionaire academic, grail-hunter, and would-be ally to Langdon & Neveu. Sharply attired, and tongued, Danny’s Teabing steals every scene with excellent timing, and a joyous flair for the eccentric.
The world of The Da Vinci Code is an impressive one thanks to set and costume designer, David Woodhead, and video designer Andrzej Goulding. From aged church, to private jet, the scenery adapts with flair, and some well conceived cinematic touches. Invisible gauze, as heralded by Nigel in my interview here, permits a great deal more show than tell, and Director Luke Sheppard expands his storytelling into this new space with winning results. The audience can share in the examination of clues, can see thoughts forming Langdon’s mind, and sail between scudding clouds when it’s time to take to the skies.
There’s also an immersive, techno-driven soundtrack thanks Ben and Max Ringham, which drives the action along with an often insistent, but not obnoxious, beat.
There are also welcome moments of comedy and pause along the path to the mystery’s uncovering, which itself unfolds cleanly, and clearly enough to satisfy both those in the know, and not. In contrast to some theatre of late, The Da Vinci Code certainly has a well defined, and logical ending.
One issue with the narrative, however, is the treatment of the Langdon character, who is, after all intended to fulfil the ‘Great Detective’ role. Much as it’s admirable to provide a little more agency to Neveu than perhaps the book does, he’s given only limited opportunities to demonstrate his powers of symbological deduction, and can sometimes feel more side-kick than leading man. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it does call into question why he is considered the beautiful mind needed to solve a mystery which has eluded centuries of genius.
Then there’s Silas, nominally the story’s boogie-man, but who, despite some dramatically choreographed self-flagellation, never quite achieves monstrous stature. It’s critical to understand his conflicted motivations, but equally important to establish him as an imminent, and real danger. His exit is underwhelming to say the least.
Which isn’t to say this isn’t a good play, because it’s absolutely fine! It certainly elicited gasps, and laughs in all the right places, and in the end, that’s what matters. Not all theatre can be a transcendent triumph, and nor should we want it to be for our continued emotional health. It’s a solid, well-conceived adventure that won’t frustrate with loose ends. The scene setting and tone is on point, the exposition isn’t in the way, the acting is committed, and most critically of all, yes, it’s better than the book.