Writer: Dan Brown
Adaptor: Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel
Director: Luke Sheppard
Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code exploded into our collective consciousness in 2003. To some, it was an alternative history of the church, to others blasphemy. While some felt it badly written, it certainly caught the imagination and took readers on a quest for the Holy Grail, a quest filled with twists and turns until its final dénouement. It was adapted into a film in 2006 and has now been adapted for the stage.
Jacques Saunière, the curator of the Louvre Museum in Paris, is found dead. He has left a cryptic message that appears to incriminate Robert Langdon, a symbologist, and that sees police cryptologist, Sophie Neveu called in to try to decipher his code. Neveu is, in fact, the estranged granddaughter of Saunière and she quickly realises that not only is Langdon innocent, but that her grandfather was a senior member of a shadowy society sworn to protect the secret of the Holy Grail. She teams up with Langdon to follow her grandfather’s trail of clues. When Langdon and Neveu hit a dead end in their quest, they seek help from Langdon’s friend and Grail expert, Sir Leigh Teabing. Eventually, the nature and location of the Grail as well as the secrets that Saunière and his organisation worked so hard to protect are revealed.
As one enters the auditorium, it is filled with music with an urgent beat. The stage is largely bare with a large screen in the centre. The set, designed by David Woodhead, is excellent: projections help set the various scenes and show the various puzzles as our protagonists fumble towards a solution. The ensemble, hooded, are frequently silent observers, moving in tightly choreographed ways as they emerge as, for example, police officers or nuns, and also move the few props around that help set the scenes in the Louvre, Teabing’s home and other locations. The projections and lighting are especially effective in placing us inside the thought processes of the characters. It’s all very stylish.
The scope of the book is such that it must be simplified to be manageable on stage and the adaptors have been largely successful in retaining its essence. However, the pace is inevitably slowed as characters provide exposition and background to aid our understanding of aspects of the story – there’s a discussion of exactly what a Codex is and how it works, for example, and Teabing speaks at some length about the symbolism he sees within Da Vinci’s Last Supper. As a result, the play feels a touch bloated and unbalanced: the action sequences and those in which puzzles are solved are brisk and thrilling; other scenes are rather more pedestrian. And such is the scope of the narrative that the characters end up serving it and as a consequence, they are somewhat two-dimensional. Even though we learn their backstories, we are not really emotionally engaged with them.
Nigel Harman brings us a competent Langford. Langford’s initial confusion is brought to the fore effectively as is his deepening understanding of the powers at work. Newcomer Hannah Rose Caton is Neveu, emotionally stunted because of traumatic events in her past. She brings out the frustration that Neveu feels about her estrangement from her grandfather well. Danny John-Jules brings us the flamboyant and stylish Teabing and clearly revels in the role, commanding the stage whenever he appears, strutting around with a twinkle in his eye.
Fans of the book will enjoy this adaptation: it’s clever and visually stunning. However, ultimately, it doesn’t quite satisfy and one is left wanting more substance over the undoubted style that is there.
Runs Until 26 February and on tour