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A Farewell To Arms at Birmingham Repertory Theatre

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by dpm (subscribe)
dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
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Staging Hemingway classic poses problems
Perhaps it's not a good sign when the artistic team use a page of the programme to explain the challenges of staging their production and the reasons they chose the method they did.

And the almost apologetic tone has the same sense of awkwardness as this self-conscious production which is currently being staged at the Studio at Birmingham Repertory Theatre as part of an international tour.

There is a lot going on. The team are clearly keen not to lose Hemingway's masterful prose and so blend narrative with drama.

But Hemingway's descriptive prose does not necessarily make for good dramatic pace and there are times when the show becomes ponderously slow.

A Farewell to Arms, Birmingham Rep, Ernest Hemingway, World War One
Jude Monk McGowan as Frederic Henry

This is all set within a framework where the action is being filmed so that the narrators are also the film-makers. More is then made of the filming notion with the cast very often speaking to the camera, which then films the action onto the wall behind rather than to the audience or each other.

While this makes for a very stylish adaptation which is visually interesting, it causes a problem around connection to the actors and their story. It is hard to feel sympathy for characters when you have not engaged with them.

When the action is a love story set against the European battlefields of World War One, that sense of empathy is essential. Frederic Henry (Jude Monk McGowan) is an American who has signed up to fight with the Italians and his life changes when he falls in love with British nurse Catherine Barkley (Laura Atherton).

With the war thundering around them, the couple escape to Switzerland where the consequences of their romance cause their lives to unravel.

Ernest Hemingway, a farewell to arms, birmingham rep
Jude Monk McGowan and Laura Atherton in A Farewell to Arms

While the end is deeply sad, there is very much a sense of watching from a distance so that the full tragedy never really hits.

Created by imitating the dog and The Dukes, Lancaster in association with Live at LICA and Cast, Doncaster, a lot of work has gone into this production. Directed by Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks, it makes good use of a small cast.

But the over-complication of its adaptation means the production itself becomes centre stage rather than the story which is a shame when A Farewell to Arms has such a powerful one.
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Why? Stylish adaptation of Hemingway classic
When: until Nov 22
Phone: 0121 236 4455
Where: Birmingham Repertory Theatre Studio
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