The Visit at the National Theatre: a thrilling take on Dürrenmatt’s classic
Reviving a play from the Cold War era can often be a bit hit and miss, but this production of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit – adapted, Americanised and modernised very faithfully by Tony Kushner – shows exactly how it’s done. Almost 70 years after its initial performance, it is still just as engaging and powerful as ever; at times, the audience is so hooked one could hear a pin drop. Hardly surprising: The Visit is a vicious take on the nature of humanity, guilt, justice, sin and temptation, despite its abundance of wit and absurd plot points making it also very funny. There’s no doubt about it – this is haunting, thrilling and hilarious, a production of sheer brilliance.
Clocking in at just under four hours, the performance may seem a daunting task to attend, but it’s worth every minute. Some stellar performances by the actors – notably Hugo Weaving as Alfred and Lesley Manville as Claire Zachanassian – are so engaging that one hardly notices the passing of time. Mastering the frequent tonal shifts between absurd comedy and serious social critique, they display strong chemistry on stage and are entirely believable as former lovers with a complicated relationship. Manville, in particular, playing the old lady damaged by the past but now in an overwhelmingly powerful position, dominates the stage with astounding presence.
The suspense is perfectly maintained by Jeremy Herrin’s fantastic production. Vicki Mortimer’s set design features wide, empty spaces with a powerful use of the fog machine – often used to represent the passing of trains – which, together with Paule Constable’s lighting design – leads to a beautiful mixture of light and shadow, evoking the 1950s and feeling oppressive in a way which matches the nature of the play perfectly, its quasi-film noir manner further enhanced by Malcolm Edmonstone’s jazz-inflected musical direction.
With a sense of humour which is tough to stomach – not because it is bad, but precisely because it is so well-executed despite the heavy subject matter it tackles – The Visit is a thrilling ride. But those who are up to it will be rewarded with a play which is just plain wonderfully done. It’s hilarious and moving, shocking and engaging – in other words, a must-see.
Photo: Johan Persson
The Visit is at the National Theatre from 31st January until 13th May 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the cast of The Visit talking about the show here: