by Richard Hurford from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne.
Theatre Royal St Leonard’s Place YO1 7HD To 11 May 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu 2pm Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 11 May 2.30pm & 7.30pm.
Captioned 11 May 2.30pm
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 01904 623568.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 April.
Wild adaptation of a novelist who couldn’t give a flying duck for linearity.
Once upon a time theatres would stage adaptations of well-known novels, cramming incidents one after the other with little sense of structure or allowance for the loss of the author’s non-dialogue content. It enabled the theatre to claim a new play (if the adaptation was new) while still having a saleably familiar title.
That’s largely changed with increased opening-up of dramatic writing to styles beyond the realistic. And York Theatre Royal’s been the place to make the case, its ‘Yorkshire season’ presenting contrasting styles for very different novels with historical settings; in the Studio, the musical detail of lives in Angels and Insects, while the main-stage has Richard Hurford’s rambunctious account of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.
Every century produces its artistic wild cards – the 17th, the discordant music of madrigalist-murderer Gesualdo, the 19th the fragmented harshness of Buchner’s Woyzeck. And from an ordered Georgian Parsonage the flaring experimentalism of Sterne’s novel.
Richard Hurford starts in modern suburbia, with a situation suggesting Tom Stoppard’s After Magritte, where unlikely aspects of the scene gradually fall into place. If that sets a surrealist tone, the shifts to come continue the manner. The schoolteachers dressed in sort-of 18th-century costume for their book-club discussion of Shandy reappear after the interval as 18th-century people. As one of them perceptively points out. Like the novel’s title character a key group member fails to arrive for the start.
Meanwhile a man in black provides the footnotes. A flight of three ducks on the wall is suggested by an ascending trio of book-pages. The adaptation lives up to its title as the 18th-century discovers modern technology. Generally it’s a good thing for an adaptation to give a strong impression of the original’s characters and story. Here – and it’s well-caught in Hurford’s adaptation and Damian Cruden’s production – what matters is the tone of anarchic deliberation.
All the cast play things seriously, amid the contradictions and vulgarities thrown-up along the way. Only at the very end does the core crudity, implied throughout, emerge. For b******* was to Sterne what s*** would be to Alfred Jarry and his artistic wild card Ubu.
Phil/Corporal Trim/Gordon: Ian Armstrong.
Susan/Susannah/Actress A: Elizabeth Bower.
Fran/Mrs Shandy/Geraldine: Andrina Carroll.
Tim/Mr Shandy/Bernard: Andrew Dunn.
Andrew/Uncle Toby/Wayne: Mick Jasper.
Greg/Footnote/Barry: Phil Rowson.
Director: Damian Cruden.
Designer: Jane Linz Roberts.
Lighting: Richard G Jones.
Choreographer: Madeline Shann.
Fight director: Liam Evans-Ford.