Money can’t buy you happiness or love, though for a while it might facilitate the romance. This may be the message of Brideshead Revisited, the novel turned play, which charts the relations of Charles Ryder and the aritocratic Marchmain family after he encounters Sebastian, the second son, during his first year at Oxford. The two spend a short time in paradise before the effort of preserving their isolation proves too great and the reality of life claims them.
This adaptation tries to preserve the language of the book – the dialogue is mostly lifted from the original text and Charles, played by Ziad Samaha, acts as narrator by stepping forward out of the action to comment on his past self. This device works particularly well and constituted some of my favourite moments of the first half. It brought much needed structure and changes of pacing to the script.
Unfortunately, other points are less successful, with the main problem being the extent of material to work with, since there are so many crucial and memorable moments in the book on whose inclusion everything depends. The condensing of time and material gives the entire play a surreal, almost rushed feel at times, which does evoke the theme of memory and transience, but prevents any impression of the heady languor which delights and stifles. However, the use of music during scene changes should break up this relentless flow of characters. More distressingly, the important speeches of those characters who did not make the script are assigned to others and it is this which sees Julia (Becky Moore) deliver the speech on romantic friendship assigned to Cara, Lord Marchmain’s mistress, in the novel.
However, the challenges posed by the adaptation have been overcome by both the director, Christina Drollas, and all the actors involved. The dynamic between Samaha and Draper, who plays Sebastian, is engaging and there has clearly been effort spent on avoiding stereotypes. Draper’s performance has stripped the excitement from his character’s attempt to halt time and presents a rather sulky Sebastian who is himself growing weary of his charade. This contrasts well with Antony Blanche (Richard Hill) to whose energy there is a certain nervous vulnerability.
With fantastic acting from everyone involved as well as a set which promises the tragic opulence and decadence demanded to elevate the action away from material concerns and to the higher principles of art and religion, this production successfully incorporates the language of Waugh with the more dramatic demands of theatre. Drollas herself decribes Brideshead Revisited as the ‘death of an idyll’, but I suspect that for the majority of audience members the idyll is more alive than they care to believe.