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A Matter of Life and Death

Published Friday 11 May 2007 at 11:35 by John Thaxter

Emma Rice and her designer Bill Mitchell, both Kneehigh stalwarts, make thrilling circus-style use of the wide-open Olivier stage to retell the iconic movie story of an RAF pilot without a parachute, who jumps to certain death from his blazing Lancaster bomber. Thanks to an angelic error he survives to fall in love with a WAAF wireless op, but has to face a heavenly tribunal to convince the authorities of his right to live.

The stage version at first sticks closely to Emeric Pressburger’s original screenplay, while more clearly marking the spectral events as the pilot’s brain-damaged visions. But the adaptation wisely ditches the tendentious Anglo-American tensions that marred the film, and with a wholly new courtroom sequence and outcome, it offers an immensely enjoyable evening of physical, musical and dramatic theatre. A half-dozen lively song and dance sequences explore composer Stu Barker’s passion for tango and bossa nova - admittedly with dire lyrics to match.

The limber Tristan Sturrock as Peter and graceful Lyndsey Marshal as June play the lovers with tender passion and commitment, she dangerously clambering to heaven on a stairway of hospital beds. But the centre ground is occupied by Gisli Orn Gardarsson, converting the film’s larky French emissary into a Norwegian escapologist, forever cracking gags while dangling from a rope or disappearing in a puff of smoke. The focus is also on Douglas Hodge, displaying a lyric tenor talent as the ill-fated neurosurgeon whose dazzling ping-pong game with June becomes another cue for music.

Dorothy Atkinson’s sombre figure in black, perhaps Death, emerges as a victim of the Luftwaffe attack on Coventry to make a case against war and the bombing of innocents. But true to Kneehigh’s reputation, this is finally an exuberant exhibition of astonishing physical skills, far more telling than the film’s special effects.

Production information

Olivier, National, London, May 3-June 21

Authors:
Tom Morris and Emma Rice, based on the film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Director:
Emma Rice
Producers:
National Theatre/Kneehigh Theatre
Cast includes:
Tristan Sturrock, Lyndsey Marshal, Douglas Hodge, Gisli Orn Gardarsson, Dorothy Atkinson
Running time:
2hrs 20mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15
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