In Irvine Welsh‘s novel Trainspotting, the protagonist diatribes about ‘choosing life‘, but what if your great revelation is to choose death? In Muriel Spark‘s The Driver’s Seat – rip-roaringly produced by National Theatre of Scotland – we’re presented with a plethora of unanswered questions about isolation, alienation, and spiritual values.
This evocative, thought-provoking journey – which despite perpetually living in the shadow of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, was actually described by the author as her ‘best novel to date’ – fully lives up to its advertising label as a ‘metaphysical shocker’. Lise (beautifully acted by Morven Christie, taking full advantage of the character’s many nuances) is a discontented outsider, who rather unceremoniously takes a vacation from her office job, deciding to force death upon herself; leaving behind her a trail of mysteries, suspects, and expedient friendships, as she somnolently flutters through Italy, like a butterfly.
Constantly haranguing about spontaneity and the importance of living-in-the-moment, Lise musters together a host of plausible fabrications, excellently covering over the cracks of her wilting façade. Her manoeuvres seem fragmented: countless taxi journeys, fleeting romances that never actually evolve, a fascination with adding to her over-resplendent wardrobe, anxiously clutching onto a map, and even haphazardly losing her passport. However, the great contradiction lies in the dénouement, where her suicidal plan seems to effortlessly fall into place, forcing the question ‘is our fate pre-mediated after all ?’, or was Lise just burdened with a superstitious sense of foreboding, which she chose to follow, instead of ignore?
The joyful thing about this production, is the cast’s skilful utilisation of the set – brilliantly morphing tables into taxis, ladders into escalators, and portable wardrobes into vestibules; consistently creating a believability of place, time, and mood. The backdrop of live camera action heightened the eerie atmosphere already permeating the stage, forcing the actors’ physiognomy to be scrutinised and evaluated from a more panoramic point of view. This aforementioned eeriness was further supplemented by a gargantuan ticking clock, which appositely reminded us that so many things can happen in such a small space of time.
Tautly moulded together by a cerebral understanding on stage, the cast play off one another effortlessly, drifting in and out of scenarios and situations with consummate ease, any minor transgression fundamentally assuaged by the writer’s beautiful and touching words.
Spark’s prose – adapted for the stage by Laurie Sansom – is searching… so intimate it seems to be written on your skin.