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Review: Hangover Square

Tuesday 15 May 2012

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Words Spindle

What does ‘adaptation’ mean to you? These days, we most often think of an adaptation as a cinematic version of a literary work. It’s a relationship that’s existed as long as cinema has, and page to screen is a familiar and accessible transition for lovers of literature and film alike. But this is not what adaptation means – adapting is simply a creative process of reimagining, adjusting and altering one ‘thing’ into another. So what if the end product is not a film, but something else?

Hangover Square is an exhibition based on Patrick Hamilton’s 1941 novel of the same name, commissioned by HOUSE 2012 and created by Cinecity as part of Brighton Festival. It constitutes two rooms from Hamilton’s novel: protagonist George Bone’s seedy rented room in the Castle Hotel, Brighton, and the Earls Court flat of his love interest, Nettie. To the former, we are led via a corridor, period door key and fob in hand, and as the door is closed behind us, an extract from the novel plays through unseen speakers. As the narrative unfolds, the attention to detail becomes apparent: ashtrays full of half-smoked cigarettes, train tickets and a telegram on the hearth, a bottle of whisky on the bedside table – all conjuring a true feeling of restlessness. The narrator’s voice mingles with the sound of drinks pouring, voices mumbling and, further away, of cars passing the gallery, creating a sonic mixture of Brighton past and present; fictional and real.

Nettie’s flat, in contrast, is deathly silent. There is no narration here, no one to explain the scene in front of us. It is up to us to fill in the gaps and piece together the events between the two scenes. It is an unusual and refreshing approach to adaptation: half-glimpsed, incomplete and inconclusive. The dioramas are so robust and realistic that one feels like an intruder, a peeping tom or unseen spirit, witnessing the private lives and worlds of people long-dead. This is most poignantly realised at the locked door to Nettie’s bathroom, only half visible through two glass panels, where a lace curtain flutters in the breeze – a solitary movement among so much stillness.

Hangover Square is showing until May 27th at the Sallis Benney Theatre & University of Brighton Gallery, Grand Parade, Brighton.

Words: Jack Casey