Note: This is a review of the matinee performance on Saturday 1st April 2019.
I must first admit that I wasn't in a particularly receptive mood when I arrived for this show. Only my completionist tendencies (and the cost of the ticket) had persuaded me to leave the comfort of the sofa after a heavy week at work. But a good show makes you forget you're tired (as the Royal Opera's magnificent Forza del Destino did the previous weekend). This tedious adaptation failed to achieve that for me.
Lucinda Cox/Harriet Lane's narrative concerns Frances (Joanne Froggatt) who finds herself alone at the scene of a car crash in which Alys dies. Alys's family then ask Frances to see them where the latter proceeds to lie about their loved one's final words. And so begins a narrative of scheming and deception which will see Frances, two long hours later, triumphant over everybody on stage in both work and relationships - she isn't actually surrounded by a pile of corpses, but the effect is very much the same.
There were two major problems with this for me. Firstly, I became increasingly unconvinced by the failure of everybody else on stage to spot that Frances has metamorphosed into an emotionally manipulative kleptomaniac. Secondly, I increasingly loathed Frances. It's all very well to have a lead whose rise to power causes that effect, but it is much more problematic when you don't believe the process by which she has achieved that.
A third, less central, but still serious problem, is the equal loathsomeness of pretty nearly everybody else on stage. The play failed to make me care about all of them with the exception of the nice hapless Sid (I think) from TV and Leisure.
The marriage of Cox's adaptation with Froggatt's performance is also flawed. Cox spends far too much time describing rather than showing us. Froggatt is constantly forced to tell us exactly what she's thinking and feeling - there's no room for ambiguity, for mystery - it's all laid out coolly, clinically - in a manner which one suspects works better on the page than as drama - not least because one could turn the pages rather more quickly. But Froggatt's performance in itself I think lacks nuance - the manipulation, the knowing glances are too obvious making it all the harder to believe that nobody else on stage notices.
The rest of the ensemble do their best with a set of rather one dimensional characters and narrative points most of which I felt I had seen before - the trope of the struggling newspaper business in particular has definitely been overused lately and is in need of a rest.
Nicholas Hytner's production suffers from a bout of what in the Olivier I would call revolveitis. floors rise and fall, walls slide backwards and forwards with tiresome frequency, but a convincing sense of place is never really created. Part of the problem is a familiar over-reliance on projections.
Although the two acts are only an hour each I found myself regularly looking at my watch and discovering that depressingly short amounts of time had passed. Many of the rest of the audience responded enthusiastically at the curtain but for me this was a very dull afternoon.