After the curator of the Louvre is brutally murdered, a series of codes left by his body seem to implicate Professor Robert Langdon (Nigel Harman, from EastEnders, Downton Abbey and Blood Diamond) in the murder. Aided by the dead man’s grand-daughter Sophie Neveu (Hannah Rose Caton, The Falling, Last Knights, Wizards vs Aliens) and colleague Sir Leigh Teabing (Danny John-Jules from Red Dwarf and Death in Paradise), they must race across time and North West Europe to solve the riddles hidden across time in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci and beyond, and find the shocking historical secret before it falls into the hand of flagellating monk and his teacher.
The success of the best-selling novel this is based on (it has already sold over 100 million copies and been adapted into a film starring Tom Hanks) is due in great part to its frequent twists & turns, and the impression it gives the reader of being inducted into an ancient secret whose clues they have always known about but just not put together. After all, most people have heard about the Holy Grail, Leonardo Da Vinci, The Last Supper, etc.
As such it seems almost logical for the show to be as flashy and visual as possible, and indeed the set by David Woodhead, and the videos and lighting projected upon it (Andrzej Goulding and Lizzie Powell respectively) are the real stars here, swiftly becoming the Louvres, a country house, a plane and several different churches while live footage of the actors, diagrams and figures woosh around the actors.
This aspect of the show seems to have seduced director Luke Sheppard and adaptors Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel however, leading not only to its overuse in places, but also in most of the cast being left behind. When it works it really works (a late-stage recap of the entire show from the point of view of the villain is a particular highlight), but with the exception of Danny John-Jules, who is clearly having the time of his life, most of the rest of the cast often struggles to imbue their characters with anything more than their plot function.
Dan Brown is known for his predilection for the grieving, dark-haired young women with daddy issues falling in love with his self-insert, Wikipedia-spouter protagonist, not for his work’s genuine heart and soul. All the same, the emotional turmoil of a “once-in-a-life-time-mystery/my-grandfather’s-naked-corpse-is-right-there-on-the-floor” situation never really seem to manifest like they needed to. This lack of intimacy and urgency isn’t helped by the presence of an intermittent chorus, sometimes on-stage providing movement to inconsistent effect, and sometimes seated around the set as though to lampshade it. To add to the book’s own inaccuracies and barely-google-translated French, this play manages to mispronounce one word and get another grammatically wrong despite only using about three sentences of French in its two-hour runtime.
But then again, this was never a story about facts but the illusion of them, and the play works on all the same levels as the film and book that preceded it did. You just need to turn your brain off and go along for the ride.
Though The Da Vinci Code fails to transcend the shortcomings of its source material, it successfully adapts the story that has captivated millions and so successfully translates it to the stage that this becomes the show’s best attraction (so kudos to the production for that). If you liked the book or film, you’ll definitely be entertained by this slant on the material, thanks in great part to the set, effects and John-Jules. It’s a fun time, but it’s not Da Vinci.
The Da Vinci Code continues at the King’s Theatre until April 9th, https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/the-da-vinci-code
Reviewer: Oliver Giggins
Reviewed: 5th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★