imitating the dog and The Dukes Lancaster
A Farewell to Arms
Friday 10 October 2014 - Saturday 25 October2014
review by Alan Chard
There can be no doubt that converting Hemingway's 1929 book into a stage production is challenging because of the length of the work and diversity of scenes that are described by Hemingway. In essence the story is about the love affair between Henry, an expatriate American and Catherine, set in Italy in the closing year of the first world war. It was first adapted for stage in 1930 to cash in on the popularity of the novel, but was not well-received and lasted only 24 performances. It is not surprising therefore that the initial request made to adapt the work for stage was rejected by the copyright holders. This decision was later reversed and the production has gone ahead. The work premiers at The Dukes in Lancaster before going on tour to Doncaster, Ipswich, Salford, Birmingham and Brighton. It will also tour in Italy.
The stage set is multipurpose, and is used as a multi-part screen for the presentation of digital effects that really are visually, aurally and dramatically powerful. The effects are actually created on-stage by members of the cast who are camera operators actors and narrators as necessary. These images of the main characters are projected onto parts of the scenery - for example hospital bed screens, with the addition of visual textures. It was not immediately obvious that the projected image was coming from the video camera because there is a delay between the actor's voice and the moving image. I found myself wondering about that for a while until I saw the microphone taped to the actor's face in the images. Overall the effects were stunning, particularly when pages of the novel were projected onto the scene with pages turning over as the narrator spoke, in places my eyes caught sight of the text and the heard the words which I found very pleasing. The sound of explosions was powerful. When Henry is injured he is suspended in slow motion for an eternity before falling to the ground, the whole scene was vivid and action packed.
When the dialogue is spoken in Italian an English translation is presented high above the stage, projected onto the set so the audience can follow the plot.
Sometimes the need for filming does not allow the actors much movement because they are delivering longer dialogues to camera, I found it interesting to see them from different angles both on stage and the projected image. Other times I was comparing the image and actor to see if they were same person. imitating the dog's website says it 'creates outstanding work that challenges and connects with audiences, tests theatrical conventions and brings high-end design, technical and thematic ambition to audiences at small and medium-scales.'
This production definitely tests theatrical conventions, it is not going to satisfy 'theatre purists' but I found it admirable, a very satisfying experience. I hesitate to use the word enjoyable because the story, and particularly the ending, is so brutal, but I do recommend it highly, enjoy it for its thought-provoking nature.
Alan Chard, October 2014