New Zealand Festival: Hemingway staged

The Select (The Sun Also Rises)
Elevator Repair Services
Opera House, Wellington

Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (published as Fiesta in the UK) tells of a group of American and British expatriates who travel from Paris to Pamplona for the running of the bulls and to watch the bullfights.

It is one of the great modernist novels and was based on the author's trip to Spain and his encounter with people and events. He depicts the café life of Paris and the energy of the Pamplona festival along with a description of a fishing trip in the Pyrenees. In it, he explored notions of love, death, the power of nature and the nature of masculinity.

The production company The Elevator Repair Service has created theatre productions of a couple of novels – The Great Gatsby and A Farewell to Arms but with The Select (the name of a Paris café) it chose to use mainly the dialogue as the script for a dramatization of the Hemingway book.

Here we meet the raconteur/narrator Jake Barnes (Mike Iveson), an American journalist and his friends who spend most of their time in bars around Paris and Pamplona, carousing, arguing, discussing and, most of all, drinking

Jake, despite being left impotent by a war injury, is in love with Lady Brett Ashley (Lucy Taylor), who is addicted to sex or at least relationships without commitment and is pursued by most of the other men in her life.

The dilemma of Jake and Brett is worthy of a Greek tragedy, a relationship which can never be resolved but which creates endless problems for both of them with their friends and strangers.

There is a frustration and desperation to all the activities and journeys of all these characters searching for adventure, satisfaction, fulfilment and love

Jake Iveson is extraordinary. On stage for more than three hours he manages to convincingly express his changing emotional, physical and intellectual relationships. Lucy Taylor as Lady Brett is wonderful as the flawed femme fatale while John Collins playing the much-abused Robert Cohn is slowly revealed as a much-troubled character.

There are moments of brilliance as in the clever bullfight scene and a delightful dance sequence that could have been inspired by Godard’s Bande a Part.

At first the work has a languid feel to it as the characters slouch between bars but as they develop and the action increases there is a rise in the tension, reaching a climax with the savage bullfight.

The set is one big bar which the characters move around as though from one seedy place to another. It is a beautifully detailed set, mainly covered in bottles. Adding to the pleasure of the performance is a clever sound track so Jake’s typewriter is heard tapping, fish are heard plopping in the fishing scene and every time a drink is poured (very often) we hear the sound of a cork being pulled followed by the glugging wine being poured.