Davinci Code Review
By David Marston
OK I’ll come clean. I’ve never read Dan Brown’s 2003 blockbuster novel.
No. I’m not one of the estimated 100 million readers from an incredible 80 million registered book sales.
Nor did I see the 2006 Ron Howard movie adaptation, starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou and Ian McKellen.
It was the second-highest grossing movie that year, behind Pirates of the Caribbean but beating Casino Royale and Ice Age: Meltdown.
Now for the stage, adaptors Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel have lopped more than half an hour off the film running time, making this two-hour version an even more condensed version of the pretty hefty (and remember – successful) novel.
So by necessity, what you get here is a fast-paced thriller that starts off with the grisly murder of a curator who works at the Louvre in Paris. He’s a specialist in works by Da Vinci and also it transpires has connections to a secret society.
His body is marked by symbols and he has left a series of symbols and clues to help catch his killer - yet maintain a secret that “could shake the pillars of Western civilisation”.
The victim’s secret society links are tied up with the Catholic Church and conspiracy theories that make today’s rabid QAnon followers seem slightly less deluded.
These links are gradually uncovered by Harvard University symbols specialist Robert Langdon (Nigel Harman with stage presence and a convincing US accent) and the dead man’s granddaughter Sophie Neveu (urgent and dynamic Hannah Rose Caton), a police cryptologist.
You have to be alert to follow the hurtling story in director Luke Sheppard’s often dynamic production. For theatre fans, there is a lot of invention and clever, theatrical techniques, with cast members often sitting silently spectating when not involved in the action and some beautifully evocative movement scenes (Tom Jackson Greaves) and exciting video design (Andrzej Goulding). Sound designers Ben and Max Ringham and production designer David Woodhead also make classy contributions.
It has recognisable branding, a high profile cast (Red Dwarf’s and Strictly’s Danny John-Jules plays high class academic with style) and a talented creative team. So why doesn’t it work for me?
Well, parts of the conspiracy feel preposterous - but of course with stories that doesn’t necessarily matter. Perhaps crucially though, I never quite got the thrill of it being a thriller. My pulse didn’t race.
Perhaps it’s me at fault here. Of course, I wasn’t one of those who read and loved the book. And remember those book sales: a lot more people will have read this thriller than are ever likely to read this review.