THE BIG SLEEP
by Raymond Chandler adapted by Alvin Rakoff and John D Rakoff.
The Mill at Sonning To 26 November 2011.
Thu-Sat 8.15pm (Dinner 6.30pm) Mat Sat & Sun 2.15pm (Lunch 12.30pm).
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0118 969 8000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 October.
Means Streets at a cracking pace.
Despite a youth spent in England, and attending the same English public school as P G Wodehouse (who also went to America), and a brief unhappy time working in the British civil service, Chicago-born Raymond Chandler is the most easily identified writer who developed the American crime story as something separate from the ‘golden age’ British variety.
It’s a form where whodunit seems unimportant compared with complex action and multiple murders. And Chandlers’ style made him a dead cert for American film noir, the assertive prose pounding through his novels with a determination matched on screen by Humphrey Bogart’s set features.
One advantage of Alvin and John D Rakoffs’ adaptation of Chandler’s first Marlowe novel, is that Simon Merrells shows there’s more – and different – to Marlowe than Bogart. Smart in dress, hat and colourful tie as he is working out the implications of what he sees – and what, inevitably, shoots at him from the dark or hits him on the head from behind, Merrells’ Marlowe is someone far from vulnerable, but capable of opinions and responses that emerge in something other than typewriter-key metallic impersonality.
There are times Alvin Rakoff’s production might have been better to throw realistic detail aside on Sonning Mill’s wide, shallow acting area. There are some awkward weavings through doors and round the screen which backs the stage. But his production has a number of memorable visual moments.
These start with the opening where a silhouetted woman dances – naked, it later emerges – before shots are fired. A striking if confusing beginning, it’s later replayed with more context, making the point of how different is the world of old general Sternwood, hiring Marlowe from the hothouse where he keeps alive, from the corrupt and murderous society his rich daughters have come to inhabit.
One of these has the inner means to survive, the other less so as Samantha Coughlan and Anna Doolan make clear, the one wary of Marlowe, the other ready with her default seduction act.
The other, male, cast members do sterling work as gunmen, no-hopers, world-weary police and other detritus of Marlowe’s mean streets.
Philip Marlowe: Simon Merrells.
Vivian/Agnes: Samantha Coughlan.
Carmen/Mona: Anna Doolan.
Norris/Bernie Ohls/Canino/Barman/Doorman : Martyn Stanbridge.
Geiger/General Sternwood/Stranger in Bookshop/Detective/Eddie Mars/Gunman/Harry Jones: Michael Percival.
Carol/Brody/Policeman/Bartender/Croupier/Newsboy/Huck/Policeman/Rusty/’Phone Voice: Elliott Harper.
Director: Alvin Rakoff.
Designer: Eileen Diss.
Lighting: Matthew Biss.
Costume: Jane Kidd.
Fight director: Alison de Burgh.