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Wednesday, 15 May 2013 00:00

The Count Of Monte Cristo

Harrogate Theatre/Touring
by Susan Darlington

Thunder Road Theatre Company certainly like a challenge.

Most groups would baulk at condensing Alexandre Dumas's epic The Count Of Monte Cristo into a 90-minute play.

But Polis Loizou goes one better by turning it into a two-hander that includes a parallel narrative in which Edward Dayton (Scott Hodgson) has been thrown into a cell for a crime he hasn't committed.

He spends his days huddled in a dusty corner until he unearths a book about a prisoner whose experiences have uncanny similarities to his own.

Dayton takes solace in the tale of suffering and retribution until his life starts to merge with that of Edmond Dantes, The Count of Monte Cristo. His grasp on reality is further thrown into doubt with the appearance of Abbe Faria (Alex Moran) through an escape tunnel beneath the floor.

The passing of time is conveyed in a series of torture-isolation tableaux that cut to darkness, the effectiveness of which is undermined by the failure to establish any sense of tension.

It's a problem that's exacerbated by Hodgson's initially stilted delivery and Terence Mann's obtrusive soundscape, which clunks rather than fades out.

But narrative drive and perfornaces both improve in the second act.

Hodgson seems to take courage from the count's thirst for vengeance and Moran displays superior acting skills in a series of cameos, convincingly switching between accents and ages as he plays both prisoner and dying father figure.

The decision to enact the book with just two actors does, by necessity, reduce its epic quality and this is felt no more acutely than during a fight sequence. Using tablespoons as swords, the most impressive part of Helen Kay's choreography is that neither participant tumbles off the small stage.

A bravely reimagined production, which plays out within the shadow of Guantanamo Bay's indefinite detention system, it's nonetheless too flawed to truly recommend.

Tours until June 1. Details: www.thunderroadtheatre.co.uk.

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