How do you take one of the greatest works of 20th century art and transform it into a digestible, yet substantial, piece of theatre? In the case of Marcel Proust's novel A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, the answer surely is: with great difficulty.
One who grasped the challenge was Harold Pinter, and it is from his unproduced screenplay for Joseph Losey that Di Trevis has placed her imprimatur as co-writer and director. Her production is elegant, elegiac, but occasionally dull.
Pinter and Trevis begin with Marcel's (an emotionally choked Sebastian Harcombe) childhood, poignantly rendering the narrator (and indeed Proust's own) unbearable nightly separation from his beloved mother (Julie Legrand). A visitor to his parents country home in Combray is Charles Swann (the fine Duncan Bell, carrying tragedy on his shoulders). Swann is one representation of Proust himself, a half-Jew sometimes welcome in the salons, and sometimes not. The same applies to Swann's widow Odette (Fritha Goodey), given wide berth by the blood-blooded Duchesse de Guermantes (Diana Hardcastle).
Throughout, desire and regret infuse Marcel as he immerses himself in Society - the aristocratic and upper class echelon the writer called his own.
Proust's incredible meditation on the meaning of memory, music, love and art can never be fully captured by the stage's strictures, so necessarily Pinter and Trevis must narrow their vision. One ringing theme is secret homosexuality and lesbianism, always tinged with the act of betrayal, not least in the case of Marcel's Albertine (Indira Varma). In this vein, the Baron de Charlus (a commanding David Rintoul) is particularly striking.
Technically, this is a splendid presentation. Alison Chitty's costumes flourish with ball gowns, feathered hats and tailored dinner suits, while Dominic Muldowney's haunting music provokes the melancholic mood. Trevis direction is at its strongest assembling tableaux of people, freezing them to highlight the lonely frustrations of Marcel, Swann and others.
In following the sprawling story, it certainly helps to know the source material. A rudimentary knowledge of French renders the novel's title more aptly than Remembrance as In Search of Lost Time. For Proust, time is captured best through what he calls voluntary and involuntary memory before being consecrated (and understood) through art.
Trevis and Pinter's efforts form a worthy homage. Their best tribute, however, would be to send the audience back to Proust's remarkable novel.
Paul B Cohen