The Theatreguide.London Review
Gate Theatre Summer 2011
An ambitious attempt to bring a difficult text onstage doesn't quite work, due mainly to the inherent non-theatricality of the material and the adaptor-director's limited success at finding theatrical equivalents to the original's prose effects.
In Arthur Schnitzler's novella a married couple exchange confessions of each being briefly tempted to stray, and the husband then sets forth on a night in which everything seems charged with sex.
Among other adventures he visits a prostitute and gate-crashes some sort of orgy that may result in a woman's death, before returning home to have his wife recount a nightmarishly erotic dream she had in his absence.
As jumbled images of everything flash before them so that they can't be sure how much of it was real, the couple decide just to be thankful they survived it and try to move forward.
If that sounds vaguely familiar, Schnitzler's story was the basis for Stanley Kubrick's not-especially-coherent 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut.
Adapting the novella to the stage, Anna Ledwich faces the same difficulty in turning a dream-flavoured prose poem into a followable narrative while still retaining its nightmare quality.
The first half of the 100-minute staging poses few difficulties since it is mainly realistic – we may not be sure where the story is going, but we can follow the husband's journey through the night. It is when reality, dream, fantasy and guilt-driven hallucination begin to run together that director Ledwich must invent a theatrical vocabulary.
Erasing and reversing time generates the unintentional but almost inescapable comedy of actors jerkily walking backwards, while the device of playing some scenes twice, once with the husband as participant and again with him on the outside watching a stand-in, is clever but not as evocative as the director would hope.
On the other hand, choosing not to make the wife's dream visible but just have the actress narrate it at length makes it seem interminable and undramatic.
There are moments, particularly in the climactic phantasmagoria, with bits and pieces of previous scenes coming at us all at once, that do have the wished-for effect, but they are too few.
There is another problem as well, one that Kubrick also was unable to solve. The two central characters are ciphers and the husband in particular is not especially attractive, and neither Luke Neil or Leah Muller is able to make them sympathetic or inspire us to care much about what happens to them.
In the somewhat easier job of playing Everyone Else, Jon Foster and Rebecca Scroggs manoeuvre their way effectively through a string of instant characterisations.
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