In the centenary of Graham Greene's birth, Red Shift have taken the brave
decision to adapt for stage his iconic thriller, even better known in the
much-loved film version than the original novella. Inevitably there will be
comparisons with the classic 1949 movie, but Jonathan Holloway's concise
storytelling and imaginative direction successfully convey the moral
ambiguities of Greene's 'entertainment', a characteristic tale of
corruption, disillusion and betrayal.
Rollo Martins arrives in Vienna to meet up with his old schoolfriend Harry
Lime, only to find that Lime has apparently been killed in a car accident.
But as he hears conflicting versions of what happened, he begins to suspect
it was murder, and turns detective. British Military Policeman Colonel
Calloway warns him of the dangers of meddling as Lime was a black marketeer,
but Martins is determined to find out the truth - and besides, he has fallen
for Harry's girl, Anna.
Restoring Calloway's function as narrator as well as protagonist (omitted in
the film) works well on stage. Holloway's decision to make Martins (as
well as Lime) British rather than American is also fine but, strangely, he
is still a writer of Westerns - why not change this to thrillers, say? The
famous scene in the Prater fairground is nicely expressed with a moving
silhouette of the ferris wheel, but the climactic chase in the sewer is not
Neil Irish's ingenious set beautifully evokes bomb-damaged post-war
Vienna, with a crumbling building that splits apart and reassembles in
different forms, reflecting a city torn apart by war and now divided into
four military zones. However, the anachronistic CCTV cameras at the side of
the stage (suggesting surveillance) are a mistake. Ross Brown's
atmospheric music adds to the suspense.
There are strong performances from the cast of six, most of them playing
multiple roles of sinister and eccentric characters. Andrew Forbes is the
cynical but not unlikeable Calloway, prepared to exploit anyone in order to
catch serious criminals. Antony Gabriel is especially good as the bemused
Martins, out of his depth in these murky foreign waters, and more upset to
hear of his hero Lime's perfidious crimes than of his death.
makes the vulnerable Anna a sympathetic figure. Justin Webb is a forceful
presence in his cameo as Lime but doesn’t convey the Mephistophelean charm
that explains why Martins and Anna are so in thrall to him - though perhaps
onlyOrson Welles] could do that.