Review: The Da Vinci Code (Theatre Royal Glasgow)
Updated: Jun 1
The odds were against The Da Vinci Code for its opening night in Glasgow. The hype that surrounded Dan Brown’s 2003 novel and its subsequent film franchise is a thing of the past. So it is hardly surprising that it should play second fiddle to Hairspray, which opened the same night at King’s Theatre with a rather higher attendance. But as someone who has never read the books or watched the films, I was eager to see what it was about this thriller that caught the public’s attention (and the critics’ ire) nearly twenty years ago.
Well, part of the appeal is the juxtaposition between art, religion, academia (slow, patient pursuits) and high-stakes action, with crooked villains, police chases, and double-crossings. As an audience, you are putting yourselves in the hands of experts to solve the riddles through ancient wisdom and high intellect. But the details that are supposed to show the characters' (and the author’s) genius get completely lost in the two-hour run time; there is barely enough time to learn what each painting and artefact is called let alone understand its significance. The result is that you feel as though you are being dragged from museum to mansion to cathedral, counting the beats until the protagonists solve the puzzle. Even when we do have the chance to understand what they are trying to decipher, that “genius” turns out to be a wolf in academics clothing. Resolutions revolve around anagrams written in invisible ink, obscure grammatical details, and simple numerical codes that open “high security” banks. The plot is composed of contrivance after contrivance, and this murder-filled international treasure hunt leads to a comedically weak pay-off.
Our protagonists amongst this nonsense are symbologist Robert Langdon, played by Nigel Harman, and police cryptographer Sophie Neveu, played by Hannah Rose Caton. Despite Harman’s face being front-and-centre of the poster and programme, this is Sophie’s story. She waltzes in, hands in pockets, and answers the police captain’s lingering question with a sprig of wit before introducing herself. It’s a character as cliched as they come, but Caton meets the needs of the performance and leaves you with the impression that she is capable of much more. By contrast, both Harman and his deadweight character seem out of their depth. He’s nervous, claustrophobic, and has an American accent that never quite lands. One expects to have a hero with hidden flaws, but Langdon’s flaws far outweigh his heroism.
The supporting performances are where the cheese really starts to pong. Danny John-Jules plays an eccentric English gentleman, the kind one only expects to see in Summer blockbusters by overzealous American directors. John-Jules plays the role with gusto and more than a pinch of irony; like several moments in the performance, it would have been entertaining if the adaptation had been a bit more satirical and self-knowing. However no amount of reworking could have saved the performance of Alpha Kargbo as Police Captain Fache; though his character is hardly a subtle or intricate one, he treats each line with a bluntness that not only spoils his dialogue but undermines his co-stars’ as well.
In spite of the ludicrous plot and the questionable performances, the consistency of the production hangs together surprisingly well. Luke Sheppard’s direction, though messy when it comes to pace and character interactions, has a certain flow that binds all the strands of the performance together. The choreographed and synchronised movement knits each scene together and visually illustrates how the historical figures and societies have put this sequence of events into action. It gives an impression of the world these characters inhabit, where there are secrets around every corner. The design plays a big part in the creation of that world too. The set, designed by David Woodhead, switches between so many locations around the world and pulls it off by putting the mental state and calculations of the characters at the heart of each scene. But even though Sheppard and Woodhead have brought the story to life with an admirable level of coherence, it still wasn’t a vision worth realising. The Da Vinci Code is inoffensive and will please fans of the franchise, but the bombastic storyline and script are obviously out of place in the 2020s. Two stars.
Whispers from the Crowd:
I loved it, it was a great interpretation.
I have read the book and seen the films, so I was excited to see how it would translate to the stage, and it exceeded my expectations.