Review: The Driver’s Seat, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (Daily Telegraph)

THEATRE

THE DRIVER’S SEAT

ROYAL LYCEUM, EDINBURGH

Review by Mark Brown

There was a point, early in Laurie Sansom’s staging of Muriel Spark’s “whydunnit?” novella The Driver’s Seat, when I feared that the National Theatre of Scotland director was offering us a work of regurgitated postmodernism. From the discomfiting, uninhibited speech of certain characters, to the rapid-fire scene changes and the deliberately conspicuous, on-stage filming, the show was beginning to seem like an homage to the much-vaunted (but, in my view, over-rated) American company The Wooster Group.

However, as we witnessed lonely, northern European office worker Lise, Spark’s emotionally distressed protagonist, flying off on a solo holiday to Italy, I realised that the initial sense of alienation was entirely intended. Far from the Woosters’ cynical bleaching out of feeling, Sansom’s theatrical conceits are a brilliant and powerful means of connecting us with Lise’s psychological and emotional condition.

Which is not to say that the director, who has also adapted Spark’s book for the stage, is tempted into creating a play which is, Kafka-style, reflected from within Lise’s mind. We are, as Spark intended, and as the regular film projections remind us, outside, looking in.

As in the novella, we are soon told that Lise will be murdered. As she makes her way, seemingly searching for an unnamed lover she has never met, encountering unnervingly strange and aggressive men as she goes, her progress is neatly interwoven with a police murder investigation.

Such a stylised and psychologically intense play requires both an excellent lead and a fine ensemble. Sansom has found himself both.

Morven Christie is superb as Lise. Swerving erratically between a bleakly comic directness and a frighteningly clear-sighted attraction to danger, her intelligent, perfectly balanced performance repels and attracts in equal measure.

The supporting ensemble – which includes impressive Italian actors Ivan Castiglione and Andrea Volpetti – move in and out of Ana Inés Jabares Pita’s evocative, smartly functional set with the necessary sharpness. Indeed, everything about Sansom’s production has an acute angularity which functions splendidly as a kind of theatrical onomatopoeia for the prose style of Spark’s novella.

As Lise puts herself increasingly in harm’s way, and the question of who (Ryan Fletcher’s creepy macrobiotics guru Bill? Castiglione’s forcefully libidinous Carlo?) is going to be the killer becomes ever-more urgent, one realises that Sansom’s production has hooked one utterly.

 At Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh until June 27; transferring to Tramway, Glasgow, July 2-4. For further information, visit: nationaltheatrescotland.com

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on June 19, 2015

© Mark Brown

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