After the success of their electrifying Gatz, Elevator Repair Service returns to the Dublin Theatre Festival with an equally exhilarating adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. The Select is the third of director John Collins’ and the company’s ambitious trilogy of theatricalized modernist American novels, beginning with the first part of The Sound and the Fury and moving on to a heroic, word-for-word staging of the entirety of The Great Gatsby, a marathon production lasting over eight hours.
By comparison, The Select is clocks in at a ‘mere’ three and half hours, the text slimmed-down rather than reproduced in its entirety. Nonetheless, the production is a fascinating experiment in adaptation as immersion into the textual world of a novel, which captures the revelry and disillusion of the Lost Generation drifting through post-war Paris and Pamplona just as vividly as Gatz encapsulated Fitzgerald’s 1920s New York.
Taken directly from the novel, the dialogue pops with Hemingway’s trademark minimalism and laconic wit, and clever use is made of large sections of Jake Barnes’ narration as exposition, delivered with ironical ease by Mike Iverson. Strewn with wooden chairs, liquor bottles and glasses, David Zinn’s set recreates one of Hemingway’s favourite expat bars, Café Select, capturing the aimless abandon of the American expatriates as they seek distraction or redemption from the wounds of war and love, but morphs just as seamlessly into a Madrid fiesta or a Pamplona bullring.
Thrust forward by a team of actors, and adorned with two horns, a long bar table becomes a bull charging matador Pedro Romero (Susie Sokol); a cluster of chairs becomes a taxi cab, a bar becomes the site of a debauched all-night dance party and then a mattress. The imaginative transformations are aided by the atmospheric lighting design of Mark Barton and brilliant sound design of Matt Tierney and Ben Williams (who also play Robert Cohn and Bill Gorton, among others), which layers Spanish flamenco guitar, French pop, and audio glimpses of muffled music and over-heard conversations to create a crackling, sensual aural soundscape.
Despite the plot’s focus on the central love triangle between the damaged Jake Barnes, promiscuous ingénue Lady Brett Ashley and bullfighter Pedro Romero, this is very much an ensemble show, enlivened by the dynamism of the whole company’s performances and the chemistry built between them—as they shout over music, slur drunken nothings and juggle bottles, they evoke the sense of uneasy companionship forged by too many benders and too many secret grudges repressed. The use of dance and physical movement brings the action to life, counter-posing the fatalism of Jake’s narration with a depth of feeling and exposing the jagged iceberg of emotion beneath the cool surface of Hemingway’s terse prose.