The Da Vinci Code

April 6, 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆     Visually arresting

King’s Theatre: Tues 5 – Sat 9 Apr 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

The big budget obviously afforded to the adaptation of The Da Vinci Code is put to good use in a stunningly designed and consistently well acted production that bowls along merrily without ever quite coming together as a dramatic narrative.

Such touring productions tend nowadays to be adaptations of well-established sources, but this is a potentially problematic one. Although the controversies and hot air surrounding the novel’s publication have surely dissipated, adapters Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel will have to satisfy those who find Dan Brown’s book a compulsive page-turner as well as those who consider it an overstuffed potboiler.

A scene from The Da Vinci Code. Pic: Johan Persson

The massively successful thriller follows the story of a Harvard expert in religious symbols who is drawn into murder, the search for the Holy Grail, two-thousand-year-old cover-ups and a nice day out in Midlothian.

Brown uses a ‘cliffhanger every two pages’ style that is difficult to recreate dramatically – it is a bit like being constantly bashed around the face. With a stick of candyfloss.

The movie adaptation gets over the problem by going down the chase-sequence route with limited success. Such an option is not really open to a stage adaptation, however. Instead, much of the action here is conveyed by the production design.

wondrous economy

From the moment the audience take their seats, to be confronted by a huge box set with a towering Vitruvian Man projection, and announcements (in French) to the effect that the Louvre is about to close, it is clear we are in safe hands.

Scenery flies on and off to delineate new settings with wondrous economy, while projections are used to further the plot without ever seeming gimmicky.

Designer David Woodhead and video designer Andrzej Goulding must be congratulated on what must be as impressive a touring production in this regard as has been seen in many years. Lizzie Powell’s lighting and Ben and Max Ringham’s sound design are also worthy of special mention.

A scene from The Da Vinci Code. Pic: Johan Persson

The plot, however, remains radioactive cheese and – despite the best efforts of Wagstaff and Abel – there are still awkward moments of info-dump which the cast handle surprisingly elegantly.

Any audience member struggling to follow the pile-up of conspiracy theories, double-crosses and unnecessary anagrams, is unlikely to be on the edge of their seat. In the (thankfully few) contemplative moments they are more likely to be sitting back with a confused shrug.

It does not help that recent events have pushed more poisonous conspiracies to the forefront. While some may still get exercised by the private life of Jesus, to the rest of us it has a definite flavour of ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?’

Other problems come from the junking of most of the extraneous parts of the narrative. This has decided narrative benefits, leading to a breezy, longueur-free telling. However, it also leads to confusion. For example, the decision to ignore the stated appearance of the monk-assassin Silas (for perfectly sound dramatic reasons) then leads to utter confusion when he still talks about being constantly stared at.

a decidedly sweet performance

Silas is played with complete conviction by Joshua Lacey who, like the rest of the cast, cannot be faulted for diligent effort. Nigel Harman, still best known for EastEnders, resists any temptation to overplay ‘symbologist’ Robert Langdon, and instead turns in a decidedly sweet performance, more reminiscent of a professor in a 1940s screwball comedy than an action hero.

Danny John-Jules brings a similar lightness to Grail-hunter Sir Leigh Teabing, puncturing any portentousness about sacred bloodlines with a mischievous glint and glorious timing. This contrasts effectively with Hannah Rose Caton’s more grounded and serious cryptologist Sophie.

There can be no doubt that on many levels this production is highly successful. It is just a shame that all of this time, effort and skill has not been put into creating something a bit more sensible.

Running time 2 hours including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street, EH3 9LQ
Tuesday 5 – Saturday 9 April 2022
Evenings at 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

A scene from The Da Vinci Code. Pic: Johan Persson

ENDS

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