Edinburgh International Festival review: The Sun Also Rises

Posted on: 23 August 2010 by Mark O'haire

The problem with transposing a sprawling literary work from page to stage becomes apparent with John Collin’s staging of The Sun Also Rises (The Select), based on the first major novel by Ernest Hemingway and performed by the oddly named American company Elevator Repair Service.

This centres on a group of weary, aimless and frequently inebriated American expatriates searching for identity, redemption and diversion in the Europe of the 20s, and the plot as such concerns a war-wounded journalist (Mike Iveson who also acts as narrator) and his unconsummated love affair with wealthy, alluring and boyish aristocrat (Lucy Taylor) who attracts men like moths to a flame.

The whole action is set in a bar-room of any place or period and the company make good use of sound and light – a bullfighting scene is cleverly staged using tables – to suggest mood and atmosphere. But the storyline is thin and although conveying the spirit of the novel with some eloquent descriptions of time and place, hardly justifies its punishing 3¾ hour running time. However Hemingway’s point of whether an endless quest for pleasure really brings happiness is one to ponder over after the performance.

One of the most rewarding events at the festival was an excellent morning concert of early music and opera by the Czech Mezzo Soprano Magdalena Kozena (The Queen’s Hall). With a richly textured voice, captivating presence and rare musical intelligence, Kozena’s intimate recital with ensemble Private Musicke featuring music by Italian and Spanish composers including d’India, Caccini, de Ribaya and Monteverdi was a joy from start to finish.

On to the Fringe and where else but the Traverse Theatre where you usually find the best new drama and this year is no exception. The best of the four new plays (running until August 29) is Enda Walsh’s riveting and savagely funny takes on the classic Greek myth of Penelope, wife of Odysseus, in the work entitled simply Penelope. Here we meet four ridiculous men at the bottom of a drained swimming pool who play for the aforementioned unwinnable love while facing their inevitable deaths. Enda’s dark comedy, full of revealing philosophical insights, such as “when I think of my youth and what I have sold and what I have gathered and what I have lost and what I have gained and what little effect my youth has had on any existence! I am a blemish”, takes a look at just how far men will go to win over a woman’s heart when their ultimate salvation is at stake. Walsh is a dazzling wordsmith and he is well served here by a splendid cast from the Druid Theatre Company of Ireland.   

By Laurence Green

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