Theatre Review: The Count of Monte Cristo - Harrogate Theatre ✭✭✭

The Count of Monte Cristo
Harrogate Theatre

Review by James Eaglesfield 

Spoons are being swash-buckled in Harrogate as The Count Of Monte Cristo appears in Harrogate Theatre’s studio space in a co-production with Thunder Road Theatre Co.
This is not a traditional telling of the story by Dumas, with a new device used to allow the production to be carried out by just two actors. The re-imagined story follows the tale of Edward Dayton, a man wrongly imprisoned mirroring the original narrative, but it is his discovery of The Count Of Monte Cristo novel in his cell that fuses the plots together. Reality and fiction begin to merge to the point that the lines between the two are no longer recognisable as Dayton becomes Dumas’ Edmond Dantès.
What follows is a tale of injustice in both worlds and a descent in to madness in the present as the fictitious characters overpower and consume the real. 

Whilst there is much to like and admire about this two-hander, including a scene where Dantès learns the art of swordplay using spoons as substitute blades, it is hard to escape the feeling that this might still be work in progress with a bit of fine tuning required.
The start is unnecessarily slow with a series of short scenes portraying the passage of time strung along for more time than is needed. Fortunately these give way to a much better pace which keeps the audience engaged until the interval. The interval however is an unwelcome distraction and momentum is lost going in to the second, relatively short, segment of the play. With a running time of less than 90 minutes including the interval, the production would be much better served presenting the action as one continuous piece.

These moans aside, it should be said that both actors, Scott Hodgson and Alex Moran, do a fine job and make for a very enjoyable evening.  Hodgson is more steady and dependable with his portrayal of Dayton/Dantès; nothing too fancy but you feel you are in safe hands.  Meanwhile, in Moran Harrogate Theatre and Thunder Road have an engaging, young actor who is a joy to watch. Given great freedom by director Terence Mann, he throws himself in to a variety of roles as he plays every other character apart from the lead in a riveting performance.

The Studio lends itself perfectly to the staging of this particular play, enhancing the feeling of maddening claustrophobia in Dayton’s cell and bringing the audience directly in to his malfunctioning mind. The music however is a little bit of a mixed bag – sometimes appropriately unnerving, whilst at other times just annoying (especially the noticeable breaks in the loops).

This new telling of The Count Of Monte Cristo is still worth a look, not least to enjoy the talents of Moran, and others will not share my reservations – but given time and a few little changes, it has the potential to be much more than it currently is. I look forward to returning to it in years to come to see how it has evolved as I am sure it will.

3 stars ✭✭✭

Listings Info

Harrogate Theatre until 11 May
Theatre Royal, Richmond 16 May
Spa Theatre, Bridlington 17 May
Otley Courthouse 18 May
Carriagworks, Leeds 22-23 May
Buxton Pavilion 24-25 May
Bury MET 29 May
Lantern Theatre, Sheffield 30 May - 1 June