Monday, 6 June 2016
Double Indemnity, June 3, 2016 ****
By Tom Holloway, adapted from book by James M Cain, Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, until July 2, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 3, 2016
This review also published in print in Herald Sun Arts on Mon June 6 and online at H-Sun Arts. KH
If you like your crime writing hardboiled, your films noir, your characters fatally flawed and their dialogue witty and acerbic, this stage adaptation of Double Indemnity, James M Cain’s 1936 novella, will tick all your boxes.
In this entertaining and atmospheric production, Sam Strong’s direction is assured, Tom Holloway’s script is intelligent, the acting accomplished and the design, costume and lighting are stylish (Andrew Bailey, Esther Marie Hayes, Paul Jackson).
Cain’s story was also the inspiration for Billy Wilder’s 1944 movie, but Holloway’s play adheres more faithfully to Cain’s book about disgruntled insurance salesman, Walter Huff (Leon Ford), who plans with femme fatale, Phyllis Nirdlinger (Claire van der Boom), to murder Phyllis’s wealthy husband (Richard Piper) to claim his hefty, double indemnity accident insurance.
Strong’s production is dynamic, shifting gears frequently between brisk exchanges of abrasive, clipped dialogue, suspenseful silences, meaningful gazes and Walter’s wry, step-out narration that he delivers directly to the audience and which drives the action just as film noir should.
Performing on a revolving stage, the characters stroll languidly through dimly lit doorways or appear behind mesh screens, travelling between locations including well-appointed rooms in the Nirdlingers’ mansion, Walter’s seedy office and apartment, a moving train or an isolated meeting place.
Ford is suave and brittle as Walter whose whip-smart, caustic dialogue comes to life with Ford’s elegant and impeccably timed delivery.
Van der Boom is glamorous and sophisticated as Phyllis, the manipulative, greedy, blonde dame with a dark past. and these two self-absorbed and murderous lovers pace and prowl like animals circling each other before going in for the kill.
Peter Kowitz is convincingly crusty and gruff as Keyes, Walter’s shrewd and streetwise insurance boss, while Piper embodies the over-confident, rude and smug corporate bigwig, Nirdlinger.
Jessica Tovey is suitably naive as Lola while Lachlan Woods shifts with ease from the inarticulate Sachetti to the eloquent insurance manager, Norton.
To commit the perfect murder you need help, a plan and audacity, says Walter, but he does not account for the unpredictable human factor that interferes with his scheme nor is he aware of the secrets and lies of his seductive partner in crime.
This stylish production is a reminder of all that was great in 1940s film noir and it is also reminds us that crime never pays – and neither does insurance.
By Kate Herbert