Theatre Review: A Farewell to Arms (adapted for stage by Imitating the Dog)

a2bfarewell2bto2barmsI should say upfront that I am not a fan of Hemingway’s prose and read “A Farewell to Arms” simply because it offered another viewpoint on WWI from someone who had served and is often mentioned when WWI fiction is discussed. If you haven’t read the book, this is the blurb on the back of my copy:

In 1918 Ernest Hemingway enlisted to fight in the ‘war to end all wars’. He volunteered for ambulance services in Italy, was wounded and twice decorated. Out of his experience came “A Farewell to Arms. 

 In an unforgettable depiction of war, Hemingway recreates the fear, the comradeship, the courage of his young American volunteers and the men and women he encounters along the way with conviction and brutal honesty. A love story of immense drama and uncompromising passion “A Farewell to Arms” is a testament to Hemingway’s unique and unflinching view of the world and the people around him.

When I saw that it was being turned into a piece of theatre, my first reaction was “How are they going to do that?” My second was, “Well, since it’s going to be at the Birmingham Rep, I suppose I can find out.”

I’m very glad I did. What I saw last night was a very clever adaption that showed off the prose to its best advantage, showcased the talents of an excellent cast and utilised technology in some novel and unexpected ways. The use of Italian as well as English gave the first half authenticity that would have been difficult to capture any other way, plus the moving maps and views projected onto the walls of the set worked very well to convey travelling whilst the actual set didn’t really change.

I must admit to having felt a little overwhelmed at the very beginning, when there were subtitles being projected at the top of the stage whilst actors talked into cameras and their faces were projected onto the walls but once my brain had processed all the information being thrown at it and I’d figured out where to look, it drew me into the play rather than keeping me out.

I suspect that this will be a rather “Marmite” staging, in that you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it, but I loved it, In fact I much preferred it to the book. I especially enjoyed the performances of the two women on the stage, Laura Atherton and Morven Macbeth. They were both captivating in very different ways and I hope I’ll get to see both of them work again. I’m certainly going to keep an eye on Imitating the Dog because I was really quite enraptured by their approach to theatre and think their future work will be just as exciting.

“A Farewell to Arms” remains at the Rep until 22nd November, moves to Bristol from 27th to 29th November and then leaves our shores for an Italian tour. There’s more information here, and if you can get to see it I recommend you do!

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