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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Old Vic

By Clive Hirschhorn

  Diana Rigg

It is a truth, universally acknowledged (or should be) that rarely, if ever, has a stage version of a famous film been an improvement on the original. It never works in musicals (think Singin' in the Rain, Gigi, High Society, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, etc) and on the rare occasions the adapters have made it work- as in 42nd Street (which, actually, is very different from the famous 1933 film) -the best they can hope for is an enjoyable approximation.

Straight plays, without the considerable benefit of great songs, suffer even more. The Graduate and The Postman Always Rings Twice, both novels originally, lagged far behind their screen incarnations, not to mention the unmentionable A Matter of Life and Death and Les Enfants du Paradis. Even Festen, though pretty convincing on stage, didn't improve on the film.

So, what are we to make of Samuel Adamson's stage reworking of Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother?

Well, it's not a failure - but neither is it an improvement. At best it's an enjoyable, sometimes clever take on the original, which is no mean achievement in itself. The question is, was it worth doing?

If the prerequisite for transferring a classic from one medium to another is to bring something fresh and original to the adaptation, the answer is no.

What Adamson does do is add to it's running time without veering too far from the spirit of the original screenplay.

The story remains the same. After her 17 year-old son Estaban (Colin Morgan) is knocked down by a car and killed while attempting to get the autograph of Huma Rojo (Diana Rigg) a famous Spanish actress currently appearing in Madrid in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, Manuela (Lesley Manville ), the boy's mother, is determined to meet Huma in an attempt to come to terms with her terrible loss.

Manuela's personal journey towards closure provides the story with its emotional fulcrum, in the course of which her life becomes entwined not only with Rojo and her lesbian lover (Charlotte Randle), but Nina (Joanne Froggett) a pregnant, HIV- positive prostitute-turned-nun, her mother (Eleanor Bron) a successful painter of fake Picassos and Chagalls, a transexual stand-up comic called Agrado (Mark Gatiss) and, ultimately, Manuela's cross-dressing husband Lola who is the father Estaban never knew, as well as the father of Nina's baby boy (also called Estaban).

In Almodovar's film, the chartacter of Agrado is a woman. Adamson's gender realignment is the only improvement on the original. It also provides Mark Gatiss with an opportunity to give one of the two stand-out performamces of the evening.

The other is Lesley Manville's Manuela, which burrows deep into the character's torment without ever becoming maudlin or sentimental.

I was less convinced by Diana Rigg's Huma Rojo - not nearly as charismatic as Marisa Paredes in the film. Surprisingly, what's missing is any evocation of star-quality - especially during the play-within-a-play sequences in which she appears as Blanche DuBois.

It's only in the dying moments of the play, when Rigg acts out a scene from Lorca's Blood Wedding , that the true measure of this fine actress is felt in all its power and glory.

What, in the end, saves the whole enterprise from being just an elaborate audition for Diana Rigg's Blanche and the Mother in the Lorca, is adapter Adamson's commitment to the mood and theatricality of his source, the ingenuity with which he has assembled all the key scenes, and the way director Tom Cairns has preserved the essences of Williams and Lorca which seep,<


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