Adapting an epic novel for the stage was always going to be a tricky task. With Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, the Dukes Theatre and production company Imitating the Dog had a challenge on their hands. The result is an original and ambitious take on a classic book, but one that sometimes loses its intimacy with the audience by having too much going on at once. Set during the First World War, Farewell follows self-assured American Frederic Henry (Jude Monk McGowan) serving in the Italian ambulance corps, as he falls in love with delicate English nurse Catherine Barkley (Laura Atherton) against the backdrop of the battlefields. What begins as a flirtation for Frederic deepens into real passion as Catherine nurses him when he is wounded in action. The hefty novel is written in Frederic’s first person narrative and the director tries to translate this for the stage by having him deliver some lines to a video camera, which beams his face on to a screen behind him. On occasion, this unusual technique adds an extra dimension to what’s happening on stage. At other times, the camera creates an unnecessary barrier between the actors and audience – adding an element of disconnect and not allowing us to engage fully with the characters in front of us. I had great admiration for the skill of all the actors, who flit between playing their parts and manning the cameras trained on their colleagues – as well as delivering chunks of the dialogue in Italian, with subtitles running above their heads. However, I couldn’t help wishing at times the director had stripped the technology back a bit and focused more simply on some strong individual performances (McGowan and Morven Macbeth as nurse Fergie stand out) and the epic story. In the second half, there is a little less wizardry and a welcome chance to hone in on the drama and some strong, emotionally-driven scenes. It’s great to do something different and challenge our concept of theatre, but important not to lose the unique, direct connection the stage 
offers its spectators. Jenny Simpson

Farewell to Arms, Lancaster Dukes theatre
Farewell to Arms, Lancaster Dukes theatre
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Classic tale with a modern twist

The result is an original and ambitious take on a classic book, but one that sometimes loses its intimacy with the audience by having too much going on at once.

Set during the First World War, Farewell follows self-assured American Frederic Henry (Jude Monk McGowan) serving in the Italian ambulance corps, as he falls in love with delicate English nurse Catherine Barkley (Laura Atherton) against the backdrop of the battlefields.

What begins as a flirtation for Frederic deepens into real passion as Catherine nurses him when he is wounded in action.

The hefty novel is written in Frederic’s first person narrative and the director tries to translate this for the stage by having him deliver some lines to a video camera, which beams his face on to a screen behind him.

On occasion, this unusual technique adds an extra dimension to what’s happening on stage.

At other times, the camera creates an unnecessary barrier between the actors and audience – adding an element of disconnect and not allowing us to engage fully with the characters in front of us.

I had great admiration for the skill of all the actors, who flit between playing their parts and manning the cameras trained on their colleagues – as well as delivering chunks of the dialogue in Italian, with subtitles running above their heads.

However, I couldn’t help wishing at times the director had stripped the technology back a bit and focused more simply on some strong individual performances (McGowan and Morven Macbeth as nurse Fergie stand out) and the epic story.

In the second half, there is a little less wizardry and a welcome chance to hone in on the drama and some strong, emotionally-driven scenes.

It’s great to do something different and challenge our concept of theatre, but important not to lose the unique, direct connection the stage 
offers its spectators.

Jenny Simpson