Adapted from Friedrich Durrenmatt’s 1956 satire The Visit or The Old Lady Comes To Call, Tony Kushner’s version relocates from Europe to a dilapidated American backwater on the edge of Lake Erie, fittingly named Slurry. After 45 years, the world’s wealthiest woman, Claire Zachanassian, returns to her hometown in New York State with justice in her sights. Having left as rags and returning as riches, the down and out townsfolk see Claire’s visit as their salvation to which she generously offers one billion dollars, but at a murderous price, writes Rosie O’Connell.
Lesley Manville’s casting as Zachanassian is brilliant. She is icy and fierce and truly terrifying – yet captivating. Every moment she steps on stage it is hers completely. A sort of monstrous mix of Baby Jane, Anna Wintour and Cruella DeVille – while also having cheated death so many times she is basically half robot at this point. You can still see, though, in quieter moments that she is still the wronged, poor, teenage girl rejected by her boyfriend Alfred Ill (Hugo Weaving) when she fell pregnant 45 years ago – and she wants justice for it. One billion dollars for the life of her childhood sweetheart.
Weaving’s performance as the doomed Alfred is a solid one of an ordinary small town man plunged into the throes of panic at the realisation that his fate is in the hands of his destitute neighbours, seeing quite plainly that their decision has already been made despite their protestations.
There is a kooky, almost surreal humour throughout and combined with Paul Englishby’s noir-esque jazz score it brought to mind Twin Peaks at times. The sets are a sleek and stylish take on steampunk mixed with small town USA that fill the Olivier Theatre wonderfully. It has to be said though, it is long. Including two intervals the run-time fell just short of four hours and while the high points are high, the overnall pace plods particularly as we draw nearer to the conclusion where it is painfully obvious to the characters and audience alike where the story is heading.
The Visit is on at the National Theatre, South Bank, SE1 8XX until May 13th . Times: Monday – Saturday 7pm; Sat & Wed matinees 1pm. Admission: £32 – £86. Phone: 0207 452 3000.
Photos: Johan Persson