Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s 1956 play moves the setting to an old Americana town called Slurry, where billionaire former resident Claire (Lesley Manville) arrives at the ramshackled railway station offering money “for justice”.
Across three sprawling acts and a total running time of 210 minutes, The Visit needs to retain its audience’s attention, which it does by a mix of star quality – Manville, and Hugo Weaving as Alfred Ill the supposed hero of the hour, her first love – and technical flair, utilising the National’s famous drum revolve.
The large supporting cast doesn’t always gel together – Ill’s wife and children for example and underused, and the horrific situation Claire’s captive servants find themselves in is missed in favour of comic interludes.
The performances of Richard Durden (Boby), Sara Kestelman (teacher Henrietta), Joseph Mydell (Reverend), Nicholas Woodeson (Mayor) and Garrick Hagen (Doctor) do add gravitas, though.
This is a revenge epic in which money talks and corruption can twist a desperate town into considering the unthinkable. Manville’s quest for justice against the man who wronged her 45 years ago takes a while to be revealed (the entire first act, in fact), so this is a play which needs patience to follow.
Weaving is confident in the opening scenes, fearful in the second, and disbelieving in the third. In one moment, he and Manville join together in song opposite the tree where they carved their initials a lifetime ago, before her limbs became metallic and her heart a stone, and their chemistry is strong.
Vicki Mortimer’s set design is superb, assisted by Paule Constable’s varied lighting design, revealing and concealing parts of the Olivier’s spacious stage to offer intimate scenes and a sense of scope.
The Visit may have a touch of bloat in its running time but it has already had a half-hour trim and could perhaps stand a bit more. I found it a committed and cohensive piece of dark, satiric drama pulling back the veil which covers the poorest industrial towns under the thrall of the super-rich.
The Visit continues at the National until 13 May. It is directed by Jeremy Herrin. Image credits Johan Persson.
LouReviews purchased a ticket to see The Visit.