James's heroine is a girl in her late teens who, with increasing conviction fuelled by European travel, flouts society's expectations to cut a bold, independent path that leads to her ostracism and, ultimately, her death, at 18.
Dawn Keeler (and the co-writer Adolf Wood) has put this new stage version into the mouth of the observer - an American journalist visiting Europe, and as it were, the author himself. As narration, it works rather well, but, as drama, it flags rapidly.
Initial omens are good, though. Richard Grieve as Henry Winterbourne, the young narrator, enunciates well - although the accents in this show are ropey to the point of grim. His first encounter with Scarlett Johnson's Daisy is touchingly shy. He finds her baffling; she finds him stiff. Grieve's problem is that his wimpish observer is never anything else. And, despite her burgeoning verbal daring, Johnson's winsomely believable Daisy only thinly expands beyond the umbrella-wielding white vision we embrace at the outset. Even when starchy Switzerland yields to racy Rome, the action barely hots up. Christopher Morahan's direction is dull: gestures are vacuous and invention non-existent.
Christopher Woods's set and costumes look good, and Gerry Jenkinson lights it to advantage, if rather sombrely. There is lulling charm as the two main characters take a boat to marvel at the lakeside Castle of Chillon and revel in Keats, Byron and Shakespeare (none are in the original). The odd silence tells. But as drama, it is weak.
The supporting cast scarcely sugar the pill. Craig Giovanelli serves up the direst 'Allo 'Allo accent (German) and also the best (Italian), providing relief in a series of tragicomic vignettes. Jean Boht as a begrudging aunt and Shirley Anne Field as an American hostess both prove pretty dull cookies. It is Sandra Dickinson's put-upon Mrs Miller, shorn of the will to control her wayward offspring, who does most to lift the rather better Act II.
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