Theatre review - A Farewell to Arms, The Dukes Playhouse, Lancaster

A Farewell to Arms - Photo Ed Waring

A Farewell to Arms - Photo Ed Waring - Credit: Archant

“A Farewell to Arms” by Imitating the Dog – The Dukes Playhouse, Lancaster – Wednesday 15th October 2014

“When I saw her I was in love with her. Everything turned over inside of me.”

The voice of Ernest Hemingway is brought to life in this brilliant adaptation of his novel “A Farewell to Arms” which expresses the power of love and loss during the impending conflict of war. The story is based on Hemingway’s real life experiences in Italy in 1918.

The adaption of one of Hemingway’s classics focused heavily on the narration which is a strong aspect of his work. Each actor told the story through their own character sometimes to camera and other times to each other. It was a decision by the Directors to keep Hemingway’s voice clear throughout.

Frederic Henry is an American ambulance driver who is drafted into the Italy army through his ability to speak the language. It is there he finds confidents in his friend Rinaldi, the Major and the Priest as they speak often of the threat and purpose of war. At a hospital Rinaldi tells Frederic of one of the English nurses who he intends to marry by the name of Catherine Barkley. Frederic instantly strikes up a friendship with Catherine which later develops to love, or so he believes. In his naivety he declares his true feelings for Miss Barkley even though he admits to never truly being in love. He embarks on another mission and following a near death experience the realisation of true emotions comes to the forefront. It is in the moment of near loss where he becomes thankful for the love he was unsure he felt.

During the second part of the story, Hemingway’s piece tips the scale from love to loss where the devastation of the war turns the course of the story into a sombre yet highly emotional crescendo leaving the audience in complete silence which was true appreciation of the reality of the performance.

Joint Directors Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks have made a bold statement in the way they have portrayed Hemingway’s tale taking a modern yet innovative and extremely effective view of the play. From the opening scene the backdrop of war is evident in the remnants of a room that the actors burst into and uncover two cameras positioned at either end of the stage on tripods. The use of these cameras projects the images of the main actors onto the backdrop of the stage. Each actor takes it in turn to portray a character, control the camera or narrate the story in a quick paced, dramatic fashion.

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Other projected images are displayed on the back of the set to reflect different themes and moods, including excerpts from the book cleverly animated with the pages turning. Trick lighting and superb creative awareness add a natural realism to the story as we are thrust into the throes of war and join in the depression that it serves. Several of the plays pieces are spoken in Italian, the subtitles of which are broadcast onto the back of the set.

The directors have been blessed with a multi-talented cast of professional actors each showcasing superior talents. The scenes quickly jump from English to Italian and occasional French with the fiery passion of the country evident in each performance.

Jude Monk McGowan plays the role of the American, Frederic Henry, with a performance full of confidence, ability and pure talent. Laura Atherton has captured the essence of the timid Catherine Barkley, a woman who lacks self-confidence, but exudes love for Frederic in a truly moving performance. The pair are supported by an incredible ensemble consisting of Matt Prendergast whose tongue slips from American to Italian so naturally and his ability as an actor shine through in all guises. Marco Rossi plays the role of the Major among other characters with the versatility of his performance gracefully flowing from one another. Morvern Macbeth plays Helen Ferguson, the nurse who befriends Catherine Barkley and protects her. Morvern produced a calm, yet importantly moving rendition of the role. The final piece of the jigsaw is Joshua Johnson who plays the Priest and other characters. He ambled around the stage slipping into different characters with such ease which was a credit to his professionalism. As an ensemble the cast were superb and brought the realism of the story to life sharing the passion and emotion of war.

Imitating the Dog have showcased excellent acting abilities combined with brave theatre direction and clever creation to showcase the pool of their talents. It is proof that the company like to twist traditional elements of theatre and stamp their own mark on it. It was clever and it was effective. Credit must also be paid to the sublime efforts of Laura Hopkins who designed and created the fantastic set and also to the superb vision of Projection & Video Designer, Simon Wainwright, for bringing a new aspect and a vivid cinematic depiction to the story.

Hemingway’s tale is ultimately one of sadness. The long lasting final scenes played out with an effective backdrop of beautiful music and brutally real performances which left the packed auditorium stunned to silence by the enactment and left us all reeling in the story concluding in our own minds the truth about how the war dictates lives and sets our own fates for us.

The play continues at the Dukes in Lancaster until October 25th where it goes on a small tour of the country before returning to the Lowry in Manchester from 13th – 15th November.

You can visit the website for more details –