simon paisley day
Lucy Bailey’s decision to stage Daphne du Maurier’s classic Venetian ghost story was a risky choice. Like her previous interpretations of Baby Doll and The Postman Always Rings Twice, it’s a story that’s been told powerfully on film.
Bailey’s intention, however, is to adapt the original, and very British short story, which (it’s pretty reasonable to assume) far less of the audience will have read than will have seen Nic Roeg’s 1973 masterpiece.
In the story, John and Laura, mourning the death of their daughter, head to off-season Venice to try and come to terms with their loss. There they encounter two elderly sisters, one who claims to be a medium witha a message from the dead girl. Though Bailey’s production reinstates certain details from the original (the daughter dies from meningitis rather than drowning), it has a definite cinematic quality, and whilst it largely fails to evoke the confusion of being lost in the sprawling streets of Venice, it nonetheless pulls off some terrifying and beautiful moments.
In particular, the sound design is fantastic, and often utterly terrifying, with distant voices echoing from every direction, wails of static at key moments, piercing screams from somewhere seemingly right behind you, whilst the staging slips into and out of slow motion, and washes of red light sweep the stage.
If this all sounds a bit David Lynch then you’d be right. A restaurant scene could almost be at the Club Silencio, or in the Red Room. One particularly tense moment, when a busker suddenly cuts the scene in two by singing Teenager In Love, is classic Lynch. Both scenes are brilliantly effective, though it can be hard not to watch the beautiful montage of cinematic infuences rather than pay attention to the story.
On that note, it’s impossible to disassociate the image of the ‘girl’ in the red macintosh from that in Roeg’s film, and, as the one striking image guaranteed to unearth ancient horrors in the minds of the audience, it woud have been wasteful not to tap into those memories. The impact is still as terrifying as ever, even when you know it’s coming – maybe more so.
Other scenes aren’t quite so effective. As previously mentioned, the staging is not quite able to capture the maze-like sprawl of Venice in the fog, making it quite hard to connect with John’s descent into panic. That’s forgivable. But the lame attempt to recreate perhaps the most famous sex scene in cinema history is not, it just seems incredibly out of place in an otherwise bold production. The approach to sex in Roeg’s film was obviously far more bohemian than that of Du Maurier’s story, so maybe the onstage sex scene should rightly be more conservative. However it’s simply too wooden to be believable and feels noticably fake.
That aside, the great moments are absolutely terrific, and fortunately make up most of the running time. Don’t Look Now may be a film buff’s dream, with it’s allusions and cinematic homages, but at its core it’s still one of the great psychological horror stories of the twentieth century – and Bailey’s production has done it proud.
Don’t Look Now will be at the Hammersmith Lyric, London, from 13 – 31 March 2007