The role of Raymond Chandler’s iconic private eye, Philip Marlowe, is one freighted with the baggage of past screen incarnations, most notably that of Humphrey Bogart. But Simon Merrells - a recent Stage Award nominee for his role in Steven Berkoff’s Oedipus - tackles the part with evident relish. He’s a charismatic Marlowe, a man who knows how to handle himself with or without a weapon, a man with a sharp mind and a tongue to match. If anything he’s a touch too suave and slick in the role - there’s little sense of jeopardy or tension and, with the exception of Samantha Coughlan, seductively brittle and worldly in the role of general’s daughter Vivian, the supporting cast remain very much in the background.
A scene from The Big Sleep at the Mill at Sonning Photo: Elliott Franks
Written in 1939, The Big Sleep was the first of Chandler’s Marlowe novels and director Alvin Rakoff and co-adaptor John D Rakoff do a fair job of transporting his notoriously knotty plot, thick with double and triple crosses, shady dames and LA heavies, to the stage. But while their production is entertaining, it’s awkwardly paced, choppy and fitful, and tends to play up the comic elements of the story at the expense of its grimier qualities, its sordidness, its ugly edges. Designer Eileen Diss projects black and white images onto an art deco stage, a technique that while fitting feels neither as developed or as integrated into the piece as it might be.