Writer: Ernest Hemingway
Adaptor/Directors: Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
The centenary of World War 1 has been marked the staging of a number of plays that reflect the atrocity of the conflict by emphasising, say, the number of causalities. imitating the dog take a different approach. Their adaptation of A Farewell to Arms is as much a celebration of the writing of Ernest Hemingway as it is a reflection on war. Extracts from the author’s book are projected onto the walls of the set and his descriptive writing is adapted, by co-writers and directors Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks, into speeches and narrative.
Yet prose is a very different art form from drama and lengthy passages, however beautifully written, may not retain audience attention. The result is a production that does not serve either Hemingway, or the play, well. Hemingway’s description of the way in which the world breaks all of us is astonishing on the printed page but its impact is lost when delivered by an actor standing in profile.
Making a connection with the audience is an issue throughout the production. The concept is that a group of investigators enter a derelict hospital and stage the doomed love story between soldier Frederic Henry (Jude Monk McGowan) and nurse Catherine Barkley (Laura Atherton). When Henry returns to active service after treatment for his wound circumstances compel him to effectively desert. With the now-pregnant Laura he makes an effort to escape to neutral Switzerland.
Quick and Brooks stage the play in a manner that is alienating rather than involving. McGowan and Atherton do not address each other but rather speak into cameras that project their faces onto the rear of the stage. This reduces much of the play to a static conversation. A couple who are supposed to be passionately in love stand still and face away from each other and from the audience. The projected images have an irritating time lapse so that the lips of the lovers do not perfectly match the words spoken.
Parts of the script are in Italian and French translated via surtitles. As not all the cast wear period costume and there are cameras in plain view this seems like a contrivance rather than an attempt at authenticity.
The staging of the play is uneven. Most of the events in the novel are squeezed into the first Act. The second Act details the tragic conclusion of the love affair and, after a rushed and rather sterile first Act, feels close to melodrama.
The respect that imitating the dog have for the writing of Hemingway overwhelms their dramatic sensibilities. There is very little passion between the characters and no sense of the devastating effect of a brave man like Henry becoming so alienated that he achieves a separate peace. There are times when one can see how a more conventional staging of the story might have worked. Simon Wainwright’s video projections create stunning gunfights in the rain and an underwater escape.
Overall, however, this production of A Farewell to Arms demonstrates that prose and dramatic writing do not always work well together.
Reviewed on 13th November 2014