Thereís been one significant change since this stage version of The Postman Always Rings Twice premiered in Leeds last autumn and that's in the casting of Hollywoodís Val Kilmer, who makes his West End debut playing Frank Chambers.
Chambers is the man meant to be the catalyst for all of the storyís action. Upon his arrival at a 1930s roadside diner outside of Los Angeles, this sexy drifter rape/seduces the ownerís wife, conspires with her to murder her husband, bungles the crime, unwittingly betrays his lover to the police, contemplates a second murderÖ Well, I wonít reveal the whole plot (thereís quite a lot of it).
Suffice to say, Frank is a busily bad boy. Anyone familiar with aspects of Kilmerís on and offscreen persona might imagine it was a part made for him (especially so since he grew up just a few miles from where the story takes place). However, his performance here seems driven by lazy, loose-limbed likeability rather than any inherent badness. Despite well orchestrated scenes of sex and brutality, you never really believe that Kilmerís Frank seethes with passion or violence. As such, itís hard to fathom why women might find him so irresistible.
Whatís more, Kilmer must contend with the other problems of the piece, which unfortunately havenít much changed since Leeds (as outlined by my colleague below). Never mind comparing it to either of the famous film incarnations - in 1946 with Lana Turner and John Garfield, and in 1981, with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson - the scope of James M Cainís original 1934 novel simply doesnít lend itself well to the stage in Andrew Rattenburyís shoehorning adaptation or Lucy Baileyís largely literal adaptation. Great set though from Bunny Christie.
- Terri Paddock
NOTE: The following TWO-STAR review dates from September 2004 and this productionís original run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.
Itís generally true that novels adapt poorly as theatre plays. James M Cain wrote both novels and plays, and itís significant that he chose the novel form for The Postman Always Rings Twice, which has twice been successfully filmed but which here largely fails on stage in the adaptation by Andrew Rattenbury.
The compression which is necessary to accommodate Cain's plot leads Rattenbury to abandon all attempt at characterisation and to rely on some relentlessly wooden dialogue. What he does achieve - bizarrely - is a consistent warning that lack of foreplay leads to no end of trouble.
When Frank (a suitably hunky, but, until his psychopathic moments towards the end, singularly undynamic Patrick O'Kane) wanders dishevelled into the Twin Oaks diner, it takes scarcely the length of the first drink for owner Nick Papadakis (the sadly underused Joseph Alessi) to hire him. It similarly takes a very few minutes of acquaintance for Frank and Nick's fed-up wife Cora to dive into a preliminary shag. Indeed, the time taken for Cora simply to relieve herself of her knickers is probably longer than either the physical contact which precedes it or the act of coition which follows. And, having decided that they enjoy their physical interaction, Frank and Cora waste mere seconds deciding that they need to kill Nick.
So it continues, but we should pause here to pay tribute to the set of Bunny Christie. Like a gaping letterbox across the stage, itís a realistic, seedy interior of the sort of static caravan diner we've seen in countless movies, with, atop and facing away, a lit Twin Oaks sign. Only slowly does it strike home that this single-storey diner has a staircase at one end, leading seemingly to a bathtub on an open landing. As the first half of the play comes to its climactic close, the car carrying the corpse of Nick, pushed backwards over a cliff, crashes nose-first through the diner's roof.
After a puzzled interval, the back wall is replaced by a corridor of doors - presumably a police station - though the car's nose remains embedded half-way through the ceiling. From a literal start, itís clear that Christie has done a quite magnificent job converting her set into a metaphor in the attempt to keep up with the adaptation's collapsing structure.
Portraying the arcane corruption of American law and insurance scams against the economic underclass, Rattenbury resorts to the "arrive-late-leave-early" construction of television drama, but it sits incompatibly alongside the passion and violence of the more expansive diner scenes.
All of which leaves us with Charlotte Emmerson's Cora. Here is a fine actress given little chance to act, with the result that she adopts a loud, whining monotone, in an accent which sounds more ersatz than authentic.
It appears that director Lucy Bailey has been workshopping this adaptation for the past four years. In the time, it would seem, she has got too close to it to notice that it is intrinsically a poor piece of theatre.
- Ian Watson