King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Ah, The Da Vinci Code. That preposterous juggernaut of a 2003 novel: badly written, controversially researched, ludicrously convoluted – and yet, somehow, as popular as can be, selling more than eighty million copies worldwide.
Dan Brown’s tale leans on other people’s cleverness: his protagonist, Robert Langdon, is a Harvard professor, whose sidekick, Sophie Neveu, is a brainy cryptographer. Their enemies are equally learned, and the murder at the heart of this high-octane mystery takes place in the highbrow setting of the Louvre. Indeed, the whole plot is reliant on the duo’s impressive understanding of theology, symbology and Renaissance art. All of this, of course, is just smoke and mirrors, obscuring what is – essentially – a cryptic crossword given legs. Nevertheless, it’s undeniably engaging; there’s a reason the novel was a runaway hit.
This stage adaptation (written by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel) doesn’t shy away from the schlocky nature of the source material. Instead, director Luke Sheppard uses more smoke and mirrors, this time in the form of impressive technical effects and slick production values. If touring shows can sometimes seem a little lazy, this is anything but, and Brown’s silly story is elevated by some damn fine theatrics.
The plot is pared back, so that there’s less obfuscation and greater clarity. There are fewer chases (thank goodness). Nigel Harman imbues Langdon with a credible seriousness: it’s an unshowy, subtle piece of characterisation that serves the production well. In many ways, he’s the still centre of it all: bemused at finding himself involved, but quietly determined to sort things out. Hannah Rose Caton’s Sophie is somewhat livelier, as suits the role, but neither she nor Harman dominate the stage. That’s not what this is about, after all.
The focus here is on the clues, on the elaborate treasure hunt that sees the pair wielding guns and crossing continents, challenging religious doctrines and theorising about everything from the Mona Lisa to the Holy Grail. David Woodhead’s bold set – all gauze panels and moments of revelation – is complemented by Andrzej Goulding’s stunning video design, with luscious projections filling every wall. It’s a dazzling spectacle (and, naturally, there’s an extra frisson for us as an Edinburgh audience, when the depiction is of nearby Rosslyn Chapel).
I like the chorus too: the company sits, blank-faced and hooded at the side of the stage, rising occasionally in sporadic chants and rituals, all precisely choreographed by Tom Jackson Greaves.
So – admittedly somewhat to my surprise – watching this production is a real pleasure. And not even a guilty one.