Review: Brideshead Revisited

How do you stage a book where one of the central characters is a vast sweeping country estate? Draft in designer Sara Parks. The new adaptation of Brideshead Revisited is the first production at the recently reopened York Theatre Royal and like the venue itself it is a lovely looking piece.

There’s no Castle Howard, not even the fountain, which so memorably provided the backdrop for the 1980s TV series based on Evelyn Waugh’s novel. Instead, realism gives way to a series of sliding panels, which, cleverly lit, transform at once from the drawing room of Brideshead to a Moroccan drinking den.

However, while Damian Cruden’s version of Brideshead has style in spades it sadly lacks substance.

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Bryony Lavery, who adapted Treasure Island for the National Theatre, is undoubtedly talented, but here the epic nature of Waugh’s novel seems to slip through her fingers.

At the heart of the piece is Charles Ryder, a would-be artist, without much family of his own, who gets sucked into to the bosom of the Flytes and the intoxicating atmosphere of Brideshead.

Brian Ferguson gives it is best, but he can’t fully rescue a script which appears to give up exhausted, long before the two and a half hours are up.

As for the eccentric Flytes, each one torn by their Catholic faith and their desire to simply be happy, there are some notable performances, particularly Kiran Sonia Sawar as the young Cordelia, who has yet to be tied down by family duty and Christopher Simpson’s Sebastian shows a graphic scent from teddy hugging hedonist to unpredictable and unbearable alcoholic.

Waugh’s novel managed to weave the shadow of war, crises of faith, sexuality and romance about a tale of lost youth. While this production has ambition, which has to be good news for the theatre’s future, it has none of that original subtlety.

Leaving the auditorium one woman remarked to her friend, ‘Maybe you had to be Catholic to really get it’. Well I am and I didn’t.