The Sun Also Rises, Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

You could probably read the entire novel in the time it takes for New York's Elevator Repair Service to present Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, the opening theatre show in the Edinburgh International Festival. Some of the episodes from the story – laconically narrated from within the action by the journalist Jake Barnes (Mike Iveson) – could easily have been cut. But in searching out "the play within the story" – as the director John Collins describes the process involved in devising this version – the company has made a brilliantly inventive marriage between words, music and an array of sound effects, and also between sharp characterisation, movement and choreography.

Updated in looks from 1926 to a timeless present day, the setting is confined to a large liquor saloon in which the half-dozen principal characters indulge in their alcoholic excess, sexual dalliances and brooding frustrations, occasionally exploding into verbal and physical violence. There are long shadows hovering over this sunrise – Barnes may have been made impotent from a war-wound but everyone, especially Lucy Taylor's fragile Brett, appears damaged in some way.

Against all the odds, the climactic bullfight – staged with an actress in a torero costume pitted against a wooden trestle-table with horns stuck on – is enthralling. The dramatic build-up, the thudding, snorting soundscape (the bulls in Ambridge never sound quite this excited) and the unswerving stare of the handful of the onlookers on stage create a highly charged atmosphere.