Ernest Hemingway’s famed tip-of-the-iceberg prose style completely melts away in this torrid take on his autobiographical 1926 novel about the lost post-Great War generation.
Subtlety isn’t on the menu in this atmospheric, energetic but overripe adaptation. As American journalist Jake Barnes, his ex-love Lady Brett Ashley and wannabe writer Robert Cohn leave Paris to bring the buzz back into their lives by watching bullfighting in Spain, the humid throb of real-life jazz group Trio Farouche acts like a heartbeat. Christopher Nairne’s sultry lighting saturates the stage as saxophones sigh.
Director Alex Helfrecht softens the novel’s more un-PC elements and really goes to town on the idea that ‘everything is a metaphor for sex’. This gets silly in places but leads to a couple of nicely ribald visual gags.
Gideon Turner is a calm surface masking deep waters as Jake, left impotent and emotionally crippled by war injuries; Jye Frasca’s Cohn is a muscular bundle of misguided intentions; and an effortlessly engaging Josie Taylor finds the sadness in her cut-glass character’s thrill seeking.
All three have good chemistry, and the introduction of Jack Holden’s matinee idol matador – amused and baffled by these wide-eyed foreigners – lightens the play’s sometimes bludgeoning symbolism.
Fans of Hemingway’s spare, hardboiled style may frown, but this production’s excessiveness is also part of its charm. It swings enjoyably along to its own rhythm, and you might just find yourself tapping along. Tom Wicker