THEATRE / Venice dies a death: Paul Taylor on Red Shift's Death in Venice
Friday 20 August 1993
Curiously, the visual evocation of double-natured, beauteous-corrupt Venice is one of the best aspects of the project. The cast create the settings by manoeuvring about a number of tall triangular flats whose different faces can be swivelled round to form the blue line of sea and sky at the Lido, the marble interior of Aschenbach's hotel, or the peeling walls of Venetian palazzi. The mobility of these flats helps reproduce the impression you sometimes get in Venice that it's the buildings that are gliding past, rather than you.
As far as actual water goes, though, this is very much Dearth in Venice. A more suggested use of the aqueously reflected light that's glimpsed briefly would have helped. Again, though Richard Clare's post-adolescent Tadzio may look a bit of a drip as he wades in slow motion round the stage, we never see the character dripping from the sea as we do in one of the novella's most charged moments: 'The sight of this living figure, virginally pure and austere, with dripping locks, beautiful as a tender young god, emerging from the depth of sea and sky, outrunning the element - it conjured up mythologies . . .' Because he has to play several other parts, Mr Clare can't afford to get his hair wet.
In the most creative reflections on Mann's book, the interpreters have tended to rediscover themselves. Visconti found Visconti; Britten found deeply Brittenesque themes. Mr Holloway seems to have found a prosy, small-scale work of which he gives us an efficient summary, interspersed with flashbacks which offer to explain Aschenbach by way of a cosseted past. These are badly acted and relayed in wincingly leaden dialogue ('I am Gustav von Aschenbach,' he corrects his wife. 'Sorry,' she replies, 'but it's difficult to be impressed when I have to live with you.'). Additionally damaging is the way these intrusions militate against any real build-up of intensity in the depiction of the hero's infatuation with the young boy.
Dame Edna Everage recently described Aschenbach as 'that dyed-haired old dysfunction in a deckchair' and you don't need to be an Australian philistine to see the ridiculous side of him. 'Passion as confusion and as a stripping of dignity was really the subject of my tale,' Mann wrote in a letter, and he was aware that the conflict between the Apollonian and the Dionysiac within the hero is also enacted in the tension between the Protestant and the decadent elements in the treatment. If you believe that adaptations should interrogate as well as illustrate the original text, then you'll be disappointed in this production's failure to explore such disjunctions more inventively.
It is a deficiency all the odder given that this same company's adaptation of The Mill on the Floss was so strong in that very respect: putting on stage, in the most thought-provoking manner, the tensions between George Eliot and her semi-autobiographical heroine. In any case, the actor playing Aschenbach is miscast, one of nature's Mr Pooters rather than the man whose noble features were modelled on those of Mahler, so the scale of his humiliation, like much else in the production, feels diminished.
Continues at the Assembly Rooms until 4 Sept (031-226 2428).
Arts & Ents blogs
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
No EU referendum under Labour: Ed Miliband to reveal that vote on membership is ‘unlikely’ in next Parliament if party wins power
Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
- 1 Hells of residence: Inside Macedonia's horrifying student accommodation - where the walls are green and the food is black
- 2 First Kiss video: Filmmaker gets 20 strangers to make out on YouTube with awkward results
- 3 Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
- 4 Rampaging elephant smashes up house but then 'saves crying baby trapped under debris'
- 5 Ian Wright breaks down in ITV documentary charting his rise to Arsenal and England striker