It's no mean feat to reduce a 1,200-page book with a huge number of characters to a three-hour play featuring just six actors. But that is what adapter Joel Horwood and director Alan Lane have done with Alexandre Dumas's great adventure story The Count of Monte Cristo. The plot is condensed and simplified and given a thoroughly modern gloss.
But, though engaging and amusing, it's a complicated narrative to follow, especially after the daringly long-drawn-out years spent in the company of Edmund Dantes and Abbé Faria during their incarceration in Château d'If. Lots of dancing, a bit of impromptu-style singing and splashes of swashbuckling fun don't make up for the somewhat superficial slant this economy version has been forced to adopt.
Not for the West Yorkshire Playhouse the generous production values of the two-nighter version presented by Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre in the 1990s. Instead, as the tale unfolds, the cast improvise on Barney George's workshop-type set with what might be flotsam and jetsam washed up on the Marseille coast and costumes that have the look of Granny's dressing-up box.
The second half has nothing like the theatrical tension of the first. Too much is crammed in, so that the importance of many characters is not immediately obvious. It's hard to care about the fate of these individuals whose stories overlap significantly, and whose quick costume-switching, moustache-swapping identities merge into a sequence of cartoon-like characters. Overhead, tabloid-style headlines keep us in the picture, "Crikey Cristo! Danglars girl to marry dodgy Prince", while the transformation of the younger characters into "woohy" party-goers is fun. But though Daniel Rigby is a credible Edmond Dantes, and though the cast gives its all, it's a struggle to feel moved by the bigger issues of Dumas's novel: hope, justice, vengeance, mercy, forgiveness and death.
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