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Review: A Farewell To Arms, by Ernest Hemingway, adaptation by imitating the dog, New Wolsey Theatre until November 8

14:07 05 November 2014

Jude Monk McGowan as Frederic Henry and Laura Atherton as Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms at The New Wolsey

Jude Monk McGowan as Frederic Henry and Laura Atherton as Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms at The New Wolsey

Ed Waring

This adaptation of Hemingway’s phenomenal five-part novel is brave, given the size of the task in hand, and courageous in its use of experimental mixed performance media. Act 1 has the character of a film yet Act 2 relies on old-fashioned drama to tell the story of a doomed love affair that takes place in Italy and Switzerland during the final year of World War One. The action is frequently accompanied by incongruous piano music reminiscent of Brief Encounter. On-stage cameras track Catherine Barkley, a nursing assistant, and Frederic Henry, an American in the Italian army, (Laura Atherton and Jude Monk McGowan) as they meet and fall in love. The actors’ narrative is reflected on the set walls but distractingly, the voices and images were out of sync.

Atherton and McGowan play out this tragic and short-lived relationship with a pathos and poignant naivety that was almost lost amid the busyness of the videos, sound effects and general stage clamour. The cast of six rose to the occasion and were not left wanting though they were let down by cameras that did not work and intermittent surtitles that packed up altogether during a long piece of Italian dialogue. Dramatic innovation is vital to the cause of artistic development but the props really do need to work seamlessly.

In Act 2, Atherton battled gamely with the unnecessarily protracted birth scene and McGowan gave us a man who was only beginning to understand the consequences of his actions. They and their child paid a dreadful price for the misfortune of their circumstances. Human relationships are difficult enough even without the effects of war.

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