Posts Tagged ‘August Strindberg’

Review – The Father – Trafalgar Studios

April 11, 2015

So me: fan of Strindberg. So Traf Studio 2: great productions in a small space. What, then, was this stinker doing clogging up the place? Strindberg is an expert at detailing how two people – especially two married people – can make each other’s lives a living hell. And this was a perfect example of it: a middle aged married couple where the woman (June Watson) was actively scheming to make her husband (Alex Ferns)’s friends and associates think he has gone mad. Laura needs the Captain dead (but not by suicide!) or committed so that she can take over running the family, especially when it comes to determining the future of their daughter, Berta (Millie Thew). Amazingly, she’s taken a position of weakness and built it up to an attack position, from which, so it seems, one final mind game seems to throw The Captain over the edge – or at least enough to convince people he has actually gone crazy.

Long before this, though, I lost my ability to believe in anything happening in this wooden, malformed production. Nearly every single character was either poorly acted or just hopelessly limited in their ability to express more than two emotions. Berta: winsome. Nursie: stern but a cupcake inside. Wife: skin hung around a robot. At one point, looking at the well-heeled audience, I thought I’d stumbled into a preview performance where the actors were still struggling to gel; but no, they’d all fractured off into their own little worlds and not a single one seemed to actually occupy the same stage as anyone else (actually the preacher was fine and the soldier, and the doctor wasn’t horrible but still wasn’t believable). I thought maybe Strindberg had lost it, but no: the clunkiness in the dialogue had to go down to the adaptation (and thus I blame Laurie Slade) but ultimately the actors failed. Fern wasn’t horrible, although he was over the top too often; for him, I think the words he had to speak were what made his character seem silly rather than tragic. But over all, this was a terrible show that left me frustrated there was no interval and eight people between me and the door. Thank God it closes tonight.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, April 9, 2015.)

Review – Dance of Death – Donmar Warehouse West End at Trafalgar Studios

December 20, 2012

In the season of Nutcrackers, Christmas puddings, and panto, I thought nothing would break up the sugary monotony better than a little bit of Scandinavian realism. That’s right, right in the middle of Christmas week I booked myself a ticket for Strindberg’s Dance of Death at the Trafalgar Studios. Counter-programming? You’re darned tooting. I figured after Jack and the Beanstalk, the Messiah, and two Dick Whittingtons I’d be VERY ready for something bleak that made me feel like humanity wasn’t worth saving.

As it turns out, I was TOTALLY right. The Dance of Death was so negative and full of hate – and so beautifully active – that it (perversely) left me feeling elated at the end of the evening. I love Strindberg for his incredibly realistic portrayals of the twisted outcomes of people’s long-term interference in each other’s minds. In this case we’ve got Edgar (Kevin R McNally) and Alice (Indira Varma), two people who’ve been married for just shy of twenty-five years and seem to have hated each other for most of it. Edgar’s in the army and has a heavy drinking habit; Alice is proud and beautiful and conniving, but no more so than he is. He craves death; she is anxious for him to get on with it so she can move on to a better phase of her life; he’s holding on just to keep her from getting remarried. Was there ever a stronger picture of marital concord?

And yet somehow, they stay together, and the arrival of an old friend (Kurt, Daniel Lapaine) just seems like an opportunity for them to throw new balls of shit at each other. Kurt, of course, has no idea what he’s got into. Does he need to save Alice? Does he need to save (the seriously ill) Edgar? Or, in fact, does he need to save himself? He manages to get into a compromised enough position that he winds up on his stomach, on the floor, licking Alice’s boot. I never figured out to what extent Alice was playing him for a fool or Edgar was playing both of them in his own game; at the end, I think, maybe it was Strindberg playing with all of us, making us wonder just what it was going on between this couple for so long. A great mystery, but with great performances that kept me thoroughly absorbed in the paint-peeling spitefulness being splashed around like bucketsfull of acid. Strindberg sold me, the actors sold me, and somehow, at the very end, I found myself laughing at Edgar and Alice and the ridiculous situation they were in. Life is just a game, and if you can’t have a little fun playing with each other’s minds, you just haven’t been trying hard enough.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, December 19th, 2012. It runs through January 5th. My tickets were about £25 quid and it was well worth it!)