Don’t Look Now has chilled readers and audiences both as a short story by Daphne du Maurier and, much changed and given a dramatic opening scene, as a feature film. On stage its impact proves more sporadic, Nell Leyshon’s adaptation, conceived and directed by Lucy Bailey, never quite overcoming the slightness of the story.
John and Laura, 30-something, successful, almost caricature upper-middle class, are on holiday in Venice ten years after their honeymoon there, trying to come to terms with the death of their daughter Christine. They are brave and brittle, sometimes supportive of each other, sometimes lapsing into sudden grief. A mysterious pair of elderly twin sisters engage their attention: one of them, a blind psychic, has seen the child and convinces Laura that she is happy, but later she transmits a warning that the bereaved parents must leave Venice – danger threatens.
The play is an awkward fusion of various themes and styles. A potentially moving study of bereavement and the fissures in an apparently secure marriage is marred by old-fashioned dialogue and a tendency to explain rather than demonstrate. As a ghost story it has its thrilling moments, but never grips the audience consistently. Most successful are the scenes where John, denying his own psychic powers, is torn between the worlds of reality and hallucination.
It’s no easy task for Simon Paisley Day to convey the emotions of a man whose wife says to him, “I wish you would tell me what you feel.” However, he makes this rather boring son of Empire a palatable figure before seizing the opportunity to convey the desperation of a man losing his grip on reality. Susie Trayling presents a more consistently sympathetic figure, negotiating a fairly predictable emotional roller coaster with skill and some conviction.
Mike Britton’s bleak setting, with furniture moving in slow arabesques and characters materialising in spots of light against the surrounding darkness (lighting by Chris Davey), evokes the decaying atmosphere of Venice. J. Peter Schwalm and Nell Catchpole add eerie and dramatic sound effects and menacing electronic music – very effective, too, a brave attempt to compensate for the slightness of the story and characters.
- Ron Simpson (reviewed at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield)