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Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Da Vinci Code review – a decent crack at staging the bestseller | Theatre

Dan Brown’s compulsive, contentious story of Catholic conspiracy, misogyny and murderous Opus Dei monks was nothing if not knotty in book form, and no less so in Ron Howard’s film adaptation. Now comes Luke Sheppard’s theatre production, which manages to navigate those complicated plot turns as well as the story’s many changes in time and place.

Nigel Harman is Robert Langdon, the professor and symbolist, with Hannah Rose Caton playing his fellow fugitive adventurer, police cryptologist Sophie Neveu. Judicious decisions are made in this adaptation by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel to cut away most of the police chase scenes; it means we lose excitement and intrigue but gain a clarity of story from its leanness.

Character development, on the whole, is minimal, as in the book and film, and the strengths lie in visual effects and stagecraft, from David Woodhead’s smoothly changing set to Andrzej Goulding’s striking video projections – of paintings, Fibonacci numbers and sketches – which give the show its fluidity and speed. Ben and Max Ringham’s electronic music adds to the energy and pace. There is plenty of Leonardo da Vinci thrown into the optics, too: we begin with a magnificently enlarged Vitruvian Man, along with luminous projections of the Mona Lisa and the Louvre itself later.

Plenty of Leonardo da Vinci thrown into the optics … The Da Vinci Code.
Plenty of Leonardo da Vinci thrown into the optics … Nigel Harman and Hannah Rose Caton in The Da Vinci Code. Photograph: Johan Persson

The projections signpost changes of time and place effectively, moving from the opening murder of art curator Jacques Saunière to crypts, country houses and a plane journey from Paris to London (clouds whiz by along the stage walls).

Actors sit along the sides, sometimes surging forward in choreographed sequences (lifting a character in the air, for example) that work well, but also occasionally chanting in a chorus that feels flat-footed and unnecessary.

Harman and Caton have the same platonic chemistry of the film and both actors suit their parts, though Caton is more vivid, bringing sensitivity and heart to her tragic backstory. Harman stays lesser known and seems oddly underused, though he is on stage for much of the show.

In a prime example of the challenges theatre still faces in our times, Danny John-Jules, cast as Sir Leigh Teabing, tested positive for Covid and was replaced by Andrew Lewis at the show I saw, which was the last night of previews. Lewis was originally cast to play Saunière so understudy Adam Morris played the murdered curator instead. The actors put in a solid effort, especially Lewis, who brings charm to a key character who is secretly obsessed with uncovering the conspiracy theory that Jesus is human, not divine.

But Joshua Lacy as the fanatical monk, Silas, puts in the most committed performance; he does not have the manic zeal of Paul Bettany’s Silas in the film – all for the better – and brings vulnerability as well as physical threat, with the air of a soldier suffering from trauma.

The first half of the show sprints through the plot, keeping us alongside, but the second feels as if it is on fast-forward, with scenes changing too quickly and flipping to flashback. And, despite the frenzy of action, the fight scenes are not convincing and it feels a little lacklustre by the end because there is no accompanying tension or jeopardy. But until then, it manages to streamline a complicated story with originality.

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