"I like to remember things my own way... not necessarily the way they happened".
With this key line the orchestra swells to a small crescendo, and following a subtle beginning this audacious English National Opera production suddenly feels, well, operatic.
Olga Neuwirth's startlingly faithful music-theatre treatment of David Lynch's 1997 neo-noir has been resurrected in the Young Vic for a short run. Fans of the film are doubtless aware of its complex Mobius-strip narrative, one never fully explained by the epithet "psychogenic fugue": jazz musician Fred Madison, waiting on death row after apparently murdering his wife, undergoes a complete identity transformation into young garage mechanic Pete Dayton. Sprung from the cell, Dayton begins an affair with a mobster's moll who just so happens to be Madison's wife in a peroxide wig. Meanwhile, a sinister "mystery man" captures events on video camera.
Neuwirth's interpretation pulsates in the Young Vic's claustrophobic space. It begins suitably low-key, building tension in the opening half hour through speech rather than song and a restless, shimmering score. The staging is marvellous, with a raised perspex cube suspended over the eponymous highway and a red car parked nearby that emerges for the climactic scene. Four screens show projections, often mixing in the live feed from the camera. All very exciting to watch.
The cast are generally fantastic, although the music has a tendency to muffle some of the voices at key moments. David Moss as the gangster Mr. Eddy, in particular, performs immense feats of vocal gymnastics. We couldn't help but notice that Valerie MacCarthy's star turn as the femme fatale was greeted at curtain call by a surge of baritone whoops and cheers, no doubt in appreciation not only of her sublime performance but also her proclivity for getting topless on no less than three occasions.
Still, it's an impressive show. A challenging film that has made a fairly successful translation onto the stage, and we imagine that it'll help to get a few theatre-shy types (like this Londonista) through the door.