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The Da Vinci Code

by on 4 May 2022

Crypto Twist

The Da Vinci Code

by Dan Brown, adapted by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel

Simon Friend at Richmond Theatre until 7th May, then on tour until 12th November

Review by Melissa Syversen

It is hard to overstate the sheer size of the phenomenon that was The Da Vinci Code when the book was first released in 2003.  It is one of the highest-selling books of the Twentieth Century and the only book to outsell it in 2003 was Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix.  It … was … everywhere!   Following its runaway success, its predecessor Angels and Demons quickly became a best seller as well, and since its release, three more books and three Hollywood adaptations, featuring Tom Hanks, quickly followed.

The interest in ‘symbologist’ and Harvard professor Robert Langon might not be as intense as it once was, but it never really went away either.  The last book to feature professor Langdon, Origin, was released in 2017 and only last year was a series adaptation of The Lost Symbol released onto streaming services.  (Peacock/NowTV).  People love a mystery thriller, so it isn’t that surprising that someone finally decided to try and bring this story to the stage.

If you are one of the few who haven’t read the book or seen the film, The Da Vinci Code is about Harvard professor Robert Langdon who, while in Paris, is called in by the police to assist with decoding some clues left at the murder scene of Jacques Saunière, a curator at the Louvre.  Police cryptographer Sophie Neveu arrives at the scene and secretly confides to Langdon that she is Saunières’s estranged granddaughter and that the police consider Langdon the key suspect in the case after having found his name written down by Saunière.  Together they must race against time to solve the clues left by Saunière to uncover, not only the murderer, but to unveil a secret with the potential to alter history.

Whatever you might think of the man’s prose, author Dan Brown does have an incredible knack for weaving engaging narratives with twists and turns, using art history, myth and conspiracy theories to keep the reader engaged.  If the man should ever decide to build an escape room I would be first in line.  This makes The Da Vinci Code an impressively ambitious story to bring to the stage, with its many chases, grand locations and travelling between countries.  Director Luke Sheppard and his creative team rise to this challenge and make excellent use of movement and projection to move the story along with a sleek and flexible set that only needed small adjustments to indicate a variety of places.  Throughout most of the evening, there is pulsating electronic music reminiscent of a 90s heist movie.  It is honestly quite effective in setting the mood, you half expect to see Catherine Zeta-Jones dodging lasers or Tom Cruise hanging from the ceiling as you enter the venue.

When it comes to the script, however, there are clunky moments of heavy exposition that hamper the building of tension needed to make the piece sing.  This isn’t necessarily the fault of writers Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel, it is an issue with the original book as well.  Again, Dan Brown is not a master of prose.  Often Wagstaff and Abel do well with the material at hand.  But where the play falters is the striking lack of urgency missing throughout most of it.  This is especially obvious in Act One while our main characters are still in the Louvre.  There seem to be a lot of time for idle chat and exposition in a bathroom, as if they aren’t even at an active murder scene.  Robert has just been told he is a suspect, Sophie’s grandfather has just been murdered, and even when they realize that there is a monk named Silas (an intriguingly vulnerable turn from Joshua Lacey), who has literally killed four people that very night, is on their heels, it never feels dangerous or tense.  Indeed throughout most of the play, Langdon (played suitably sheepish and charming by Christopher Harper) seems mostly pleasantly fascinated by the whole ordeal.  This awkward exposition, then, in turn makes the sheer pace of the second act all the more jarring, because suddenly we are flying through the dramatic highs of final deceptions, emotional reunions and secret reveals with the pace of someone desperate to catch the last train home for the night.  The sheer speed of the second act undercuts the emotional pay-off the first act was trying to set up in the first place, especially for Sophie (played earnestly by Hannah Rose Caton).  The scene-stealer of the production is easily Danny Jones-Jules (best known as Cat in Red Dwarf) who brings most of the energy needed to make the play work with his turn as Sir Leigh Teabing.  He understood the assignment. 

Writers Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel and director Luke Sheppard along with the cast make an admirable attempt to transfer the story of The Da Vinci Code to the stage.  And certainly, The Da Vinci Code is way more successful in its endeavour to bring a bestselling mystery thriller to the stage than the touring adaptation of The Girl on the Train.  However, despite their best efforts, this production can’t overcome the inherent weaknesses of its original source material.  That, paired with the distinct loss of tension and narrative drive that made the book such a perfect holiday page-turner in the first place, makes this adaptation fall a bit flat.

Melissa Syversen, May 2022

Photography by Johan Persson

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