There were instances of protests and boycotts in countries across Asia. Closer to home, on the steps of Lincoln Cathedral – used to shoot a scene in Westminster Abbey – a nun knelt in prayer for 12 hours in a vigil of dismay.
Might a fresh round of upset ensue with the unveiling of the world premiere stage adaptation? It may sound unlikely that placards would be brandished in Bromley, south-east London, the launch pad for the show’s 11-month tour. But if that did happen, it would confirm that the tackling of religious subjects in an unorthodox fashion, on stage or screen, retains the power to shock people.
Notably, in 1969, Mary Whitehouse denounced Dennis Potter for committing blasphemy with his TV play Son of Man, which portrayed Christ as a self-doubting figure and didn’t depict the resurrection. Protests beset a nationwide tour of Jerry Springer – The Opera in 2006: there was particular anger at Christ being presented as a barely clad participant in a hellish incarnation of the Jerry Springer talk show, squaring up to Satan (“Talk to the stigmata!”). The year before, the National was also inundated with letters about Howard Brenton’s play Paul, in which Christ survived crucifixion and engineered Saul’s Damascene conversion.
By virtue of theatre’s immediacy, when The Da Vinci Code hits the stage, it will encounter the front line of public opinion. If the production, directed by the rising star Luke Sheppard and starring ex-EastEnders actor Nigel Harman as Langdon, is done well, it will stir reaction, debate – and protest too?
“We have considered the possibility that there might be protests,” admits Rachel Wagstaff, who has collaborated with Duncan Abel on the script, consulting along the way with “a generously supportive” Brown via email. The pair enjoyed commercial success adapting another bestseller, The Girl on the Train, in 2018, and before that Wagstaff reaped critical adulation too with her transposition of Sebastian Faulks’s First World War novel Birdsong. She’s a dedicated and seasoned adapter but realises this is a different order of event.