The Old Lady Comes To Call as THE VISIT opens at the National Theatre

Tony Kushner’s adaptation of the Swiss dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 classic, The Visit (also known as The Old Lady Comes To Call) opened at the National Theatre on the Olivier stage last week, directed by Jeremy Herrin.

The show begins in the decaying town of Slurry, as the townspeople anticipate the arrival of the world’s richest woman. Upon arrival, Claire Zachanassian rises to the occasion and offers the town a lifeline, one billion dollars in return for justice. The town are forced to choose between community and commodity, life and death in a tense unfolding narrative on greed and the value of human life.

As Claire Zachanassian, Lesley Manville, first appears amid a cloud of smoke armed with two metal legs and caustic wit. Manville immediately demands her audience hang on her every perfectly delivered line. Her ability to deliver a darkly comic, villainous performance, while still remaining a sympathetic figure is no mean feat. Manville is undoubtedly the best thing about The Visit.

Hugo Weaving perfectly portrays Alfred Ill’s decent from town saviour into a guilt ridden man at the mercy of his 45 year old indiscretions.

The two leads are supported by an impressive ensemble cast, including Sara Kestelman who is captivating Principal Henrietta Covington, the sole voice of reason.

Vicki Mortimer’s set design brings the town of Slurry to life. She makes excellent use of the Olivier’s revolve to assist with slick scene transitions. Moritz Junge‘s costumes ensure than Manville always looks a million dollars, but also perfectly portray the steady decline of morality in Slurry as capitalism and greed begin to take root.

A special mention must be given to Malcolm Edmonstone, whose music manages to successfully sustain the momentum of the piece, keeping a thread of tension running for the entire 3 and a half hours, particularly in the flawlessly executed final scene.

An impressive production, boasting a talented cast, intricate set and fabulous costumes, The Visit is an interesting exploration on the effects of capitalism and the decay of community in small town America. Though Jeremy Herrin’s production is perhaps half an hour too long, Manville’s darkly comic, powerhouse performance alone makes this play well worth the visit.

Reviewed by Ben McDonald
Photo: Johan Persson