Mark Strong and Elizabeth Debicki, The Red Barn Mark Strong and Elizabeth Debicki, The Red Barn. Photo Manuel Harlan

The Red Barn
By David Hare
National Theatre – Lyttleton
Reviewed by Jarlath O'Connell
Tickets: www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

What does it cost you being a good man? What happens if you stray from the path? How would you live with yourself after? These moral questions lie at the heart of Georges Simenon's crime thriller Le Main, which has been transformed into a wonderfully assured and stylish stage thriller by David Hare.

Simenon, the Belgian born master of crime fiction, is back in vogue with Penguin reprinting a raft of his titles in new translations and there's also a lavish new Maigret on ITV. Hare (for some reason) is currently out of fashion whilst the young director Robert Icke is most definitely the hottest thing. His Uncle Vanya and Oresteia were the best things on the London stage last year. Also in vogue is leading man Mark Strong, fresh from wowing Broadway in A View from the Bridge and this cast also welcomes Australian Elizabeth Debicki who was so compelling in BBC's hit The Night Manager. Probably the most statuesque leading lady ever to set foot on a stage, think of a silky Cate Blanchett on stilts.

Hope Davis, Nigel Whitmey & Anna Skellern in The Red Barn Hope Davis, Nigel Whitmey & Anna Skellern in The Red Barn. Photo Manuel Harlan

We are immediately thrust into the maelstrom of a violent New England blizzard as two couples make their way back from a party. Only three of the four make it to the remote farmhouse however as one of the men disappears in the snowstorm, having failed to keep hold of the other's hand.

Donald is a mild mannered middle aged lawyer who feels life has passed him by. He is married to the sober Ingrid (Hope Davis), from good WASP stock and highly esteemed in this rural community, which only makes Donald feel even more unworthy. After two fruitless hours searching he returns alone and comforts Mona (Debicki) on her loss. We soon learn that her husband Joe was a cad and the marriage was rocky. Later the local police inspector adds the possibility of Ray's death being a suicide to the mix. Slowly Don becomes totally entranced with Mona and soon he is handling more than her legal affairs. We are left to question all the characters' motives.

Simenon's skill was in exploring how a single crime could suddenly rip a hitherto normal life apart and the characters here are all enticingly ambiguous. His prose style too had a deadpan flatness to it and Hare translates it to the stage with great aplomb. The plain line readings manage to reveal as much as conceal.

Bunny Christie's retro monochrome designs are astonishingly beautiful. Gliding and contracting screens replicate pans, zooms and fades-to-black in this totally filmic treatment of the material and they enhance the theme of looking but not seeing. Paule Constable's painterly lighting and Tom Gibbons' soundscape too accentuate the totally unnerving atmosphere. As in the best of theater you don't see any joins and Icke here has woven the contributions of all the collaborators into a totally satisfying whole.

It is a feast for the senses and the intellect.

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Elizabeth Debicki in The Red Barn Elizabeth Debicki in The Red Barn. Photo Manuel Harlan

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