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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Postman Always Rings Twice

American Justice. Don't you just love it.
---- Katz
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Val Kilmer as Frank and Charlotte Emmerson as Cora
(Photo: Eric Richmond)
I must be one of the few people who has seen neither film version of The Postman Always Rings Twice but I have the advantage of having no celluloid axe to grind or fond memory to live up to. Lucy Bailey's brings her West Yorkshire Playhouse production starring America's Val Kilmer to London. This is the same director and designer Bunny Christie who were responsible for the lovely stage adaptation of Baby Doll some years back at the National except that the adaptation is by Andrew Rattenbury. Charlotte Emmerson who played Baby Doll takes on the female lead role, that of husband killer Cora Papadakis. Lancashire's own Joe Alessi doubles as Nick Papadakis and with a full wig, as Katz the lawyer hired to get Frank off the hook.

Bunny Christie's sets are almost worth the journey on their own, they are full of wonderful lighting breaking through slatted blinds. The "Twinoaks"light bulb sign above the Papadakis' restaurant creaks in the wind and sways dangerously. The whole set is almost monochrome, shades of black and off white and sepias, the glass dusty and smeared, the floorboards bare. Add the jazz notes of Django Bates' score and the atmosphere created is second to none. There is a spectacular car crash as an old vehicle crashes through the artificial roof of the stage, its headlights illuminating the figures below and the car dominates the action later in the play, as a metaphor for the cloud which hangs over Frank and Cora.

But having said that, The Postman Always Rings Twice doesn't strike that great production high note that one might expect. Why? It's hard to put one's finger on it. Val Kilmer plays his scenes understatedly, admirably, with an economy of emotion. Perhaps what happens is that we care too little about his fate and that of Cora.

The sex scenes are full blown, as explicit and steamy as any you will see on the London stage and very exciting. Charlotte Emmerson is fine as Cora, the tense girl from Des Moines who marries Nick Papadakis to avoid being blown along like life's flotsam. Frank convinces her that her only way out is to murder her husband. That murder is finely staged in a shower with real water, again at circle level. It's a scene Hitchcock would have been proud of.

There is loads to like here besides the dramatic and extravagant staging which wouldn't be out of place in a 1980s Lloyd Webber musical. Lovely set pieces where all the cast are gathered onstage like a period photograph of a 1940s work place. There are wonderful cameo performances from the State Trooper (Mac McDonald) and the detectives. Joe Alessi excels in both his roles, Nick the restaurant owner who has overreached himself in taking a young wife and later, as the fast talking lawyer Katz. There seems to be real perspiration and grime on Frank's clothes. But the whole does not quite come off. I must rent the video to see if the Jack Nicolson film is much better than this interesting staging or whether that too will leave me feeling mildly disappointed.

Adapted by Andrew Rattenbury from James M Cain novel
Directed by Lucy Bailey

Starring: Val Kilmer
With: Joe Alessi, Charlotte Emmerson, Mac McDonald, Keith Bartlett, Ian Pirie, Aran Bell, Adam Rayner, Alanis Peart, Martin Johnston, Steve Knightly, Rae Baker
Design: Bunny Christie
Music: Django Bates
Lighting: Nigel Edwards
Sound: Mic Pool
Running time: Two hours thirty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6631
Booking until 30 July 2005.
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 8th June performance at the Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue London SW1 (Tube: Embankment)
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