Helen Lawrence

Helen Lawrence

King's Theatre

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Neil Cooper

IT is 1948, and a femme fatale is receiving her just desserts in a Los Angeles sanatorium after being convicted of a headline-friendly murder. A year later, and the same ice-cool blonde blows into Vancouver, drop-dead gorgeous and with revenge on her mind. So it goes in Stan Douglas' epically staged piece of cinematic theatre, which is part film noir homage, part dissection of post-Second World War social engineering, and part technical feat par excellence.

The story, as scripted by some- time HBO writer Chris Haddock with hard-boiled baroque flourishes, is stylistically familiar enough, as the play's eponymous heroine flits her way between a decrepit hotel that houses homeless war veterans and the mixed-race Hogan's Alley ghetto nearby. As corrupt cops attempt to clean up the black economy which has thrived during war-time, we get a glimpse at the roots of future urban regeneration projects that razed big cities as much as enemy bombs did.

All of this is filmed on a bare stage and subsequently beamed live in black and white on to a screen shared with astonishing 3D realisations of the play's two settings writ large. Accompanied by a suitably shadowy jazz soundtrack, these parallel images resemble a titillatingly drawn collage on a pulp fiction book jacket or a poster at the local flea-pit promising sex and violence galore.

Beyond the big-screen action, there's a without-walls vulnerability to the ensemble cast's living colour performances, led by Lisa Ryder as a beautifully brittle Helen. Haddock's wise-crack-loaded script is shot through with occasional sapphic undertones in a meticulously plotted period piece, laced with politics aplenty.

This review appeared in later editions of yesterday's Herald