unspecified-143It is difficult to adapt a novel for a film, a TV series is usually better suited to capture the richness of the writing. This is equally true for a stage adaptation and often it is better to step away from the original. Bryony Lavery attempts to do justice to Evelyn Waugh’s novel by trying to cover everything which is not possible in a two and a half hour play. But there is still much to enjoy in Damian Cruden’s production.

During World War II, Captain Charles Ryder returns to Brideshead and remembers his first encounter with the Marchmain family. A young undergraduate at Oxford, he falls under the spell of the charming Sebastian Flyte who introduces him to his eccentric friends such as the snobbish Anthony Blanche, and invited him to Brideshead Castle, his family home. Spending his summers with Sebastian and his beautiful sister Julia, Charles experiences a life that is very different from his own, yet the Marchmain family and their world of privilege are crumbling just as the palace they are living in.

Bryony Lavery has written a memory play and Cruden’s production has Charles Ryder (Brian Ferguson) recounting his long relationship with the aristocratic Marchmain family, beginning with Sebastian Flyte (Christopher Simpson), a volatile youth, whose charm comes with a childish petulance. The reserved Charles is intrigued by Sebastian and has a homosexual relationship with him, which is made explicit in the production although it is only hinted at in the novel. Sebastian uses Ryder’s infatuation for his own selfish purposes.

Julia Flyte (Rosie Hilal) and Lady Marchmain (Caroline Harker) are somewhat underwritten as the focus is clearly on Charles and Sebastian with Christopher Simpson giving the best performance of the evening as a man who is in love with his childhood and drinks his life away. Brian Ferguson is very good as the stiff upper-lip Charles who is bedazzled by the world of the Marchmains and their strange form of Catholicism which he, as an agnostic, cannot truly comprehend.

Cruden’s production benefits from Sara Perks’ stylish and minimalist design consisting of sliding panels and ingenious lighting by Richard G. Jones to indicate the various locations.

Reviewed by Carolin Kopplin
Photo: Roy Tan

Brideshead Revisited was playing at Richmond Theatre until 2nd July 2016