The Driver’s Seat
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Until the 27th June
This production of Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat is a masterclass in adaptation. Faithful to the novel, it manages to be both contemporary and retro, fusing elements of CSI and Crimewatch via Italian giallo. The director and adapter of Spark’s ‘spiny and treacherous masterpiece’ is Laurie Sansom, Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland.
On the surface, The Driver’s Seat is the story of an alienated woman, alienated socially, by work, and from herself (mental illness is inferred from the start). She seems to be searching for a lover, she is quite sure she’ll find on holiday, who can save her from these everyday horrors. Yet this narrative is all about what’s below the surface and the many facets of Lise’s enigma are mirrored in the continually morphing stage design and production—so below, as above. The creeping sense of unease that builds incrementally throughout the play makes it apparent that she is not looking for love, a petit mort, or rescuing, but some form of self-destruction, ‘the time of her life’ as she says.
Each member of the cast is excellent, providing crucial and varied contributions as the play unfolds. They work incredibly well as a collective, shifting and changing in a protean mass, that is part supporting role to Lise’s unknown drive and part meta-fictive detective commentary on the crime—we find out early on—that is going to happen. Morvern Christie, in a cold and brilliant capturing of Lise, is the only character who plays a single role, but she shifts and changes within one persona, so we have no idea who she is, or what she’s thinking.
There are three main elements to the play which make it such a success, and which the cast help to seem seamless: the adaptation itself, the set, costume and video design by Ana Inés Jabares Pita, and the sound collage by Philip Pinsky, who is a constant looming presence on stage, at the side of the action.
The matter of fact descriptions of rooms and places in Spark’s book are skilfully redeployed by Sansom to become factual details, or evidence, in the police identikit profile of the crime. Mounting details are continually added to one of the main props, a type of incident room whiteboard/pinboard, that also plays many roles, from shop entrance to toilet. The trick here is that it is transparent, so the audience can see the addition of new evidence and photos: ‘Victim,’ ‘Eyes – Green/Brown.’ Live video footage is used to relay the narrative, to ramp up the sense of voyeurism in the prowling male characters, and to comment on lurid real-time mass media news coverage. At the same time the sound collage amplifies events and associations, especially with the clever interweaving of music from Argento’s Suspiria to cement the notion that the play is part homage to gialli films. This is augmented by the strong sense of Italian throughout, which is foregrounded more than it is in the book, not least through the use of Italian from the seedy mechanics, terrifically played by Castiglione and Volpetti.
It is this collusion of the many components to the play—set, adaptation, cast, sound—that help it capture the brilliance of Spark’s prose and story and be as brilliant a work in its own right.
Reviewer – Nicky Melville