Posts Tagged ‘So who is this Strindberg guy anyway?’

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.)

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Review – After Miss Julie – Young Vic

April 2, 2012

So what do YOU really know about Strindberg? Well, what I knew is that his play, The Creditors, was a masterpiece of psychological drama – it displayed an incredible insight into the weird squirreliness of the human mind, which apparently hasn’t changed all that much in the last century. Jealousy, the fear of looking weak to others, saving face, these are the horrible things that motivate people to act in ways that seem not intuitively to work in their favor, and this is what Strindberg wrote about in The Creditors – giving me hope that I’d see similar excavations of the psyche in The Young Vic’s production of After Miss Julie (adapted from Strindberg’s Miss Julie by Patrick Marber).

After Miss Julie takes on very different sets of concerns (and I can’t say how much is Strindberg and how much is Marber). It’s set right after the war, and its characters are overwhelmed by the concept of class/work status and what it means in terms of their relations with each other. Miss Julie herself (Natalie Dormer) is freakishly attracted to the sense of power she has as a member of the ruling class, yet at the same time wants to be ordered around. Chauffeur John (Kieran Bew) seems smart enough and has experienced equality as a soldier, but still jumps when the master calls. And Christine (Polly Frame) has a strong understanding of what behavior is required of her and her fiance John while working within the “master’s” household … and how personal morals may be compromised while you’re in service.

Julie’s strange sexuality – a virgin with dominatrix tendencies and a boiling passion – seems to dominate her odd little mind. She doesn’t come off as particularly sympathetic, what with her willingness to be completely callous to people whose economic livelihoods she controls. She provides some background for her “odd” belief in the essential equality of the sexes late in the play, but it all doesn’t seem to add up to a girl who has her fiance jumping over a riding crop and her lover kissing her shoes.

Almost as curious is John, with his stories of having loved Miss Julie forever polluted permanently by his later callous statements and ultimate disassociation with her plight. I don’t want to give too much away, but … how much of what he said was real? How much of it was to try to manage a person who was clearly over the brink? How many of it was someone just trying to write something that made good theater? Ultimately, at 90 minutes I found this an extremely engaging show (until about the last ten, which dragged), though its resolution was entirely too neat. Still – a lovely intimate space filled with the smell of freshly made toast, three people who, even if they were not entirely making sense, were at least worth thinking about … it all made for a night of nice drama. And toast. Mmmm.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, March 31st, 2012. It runs through April 14th. No parakeets were harmed during this performance, I’M SURE.)

Review – Creditors – The Donmar

October 22, 2008

It is not often that a night at the theater leaves me feeling a little breathless, but last night’s trip to the Donmar did – it was an outstanding combination of a powerful script, absorbing acting, and an environment intimate enough to make it all feel real. Creditors was fantastic. It’s hard to believe that before the show I was thinking about not going because I was so worn out!

I’ve never seen a play by Strindberg before, and the only way I can describe him is “like Pinter, only with all of the words.” There were only three characters – Tekla (Anna Chancellor), her husband Adolph (Tom Burke), and the mysterious Gustav (Owen Teale). The program notes advised us to see them not as characters, but rather as archetypes, which worked well – I was reminded of Albee’s Sandbox and of No Exit when observing their interactions, which seemed hyper-real, especially in the first scene, in which a mysterious man, Gustav (a doctor? a figment of the imagination), counsels Adolph about his life. He’s already convinced Adolphe that his artistic career is meaningless, then proceeds to completely and utterly tear him apart. How does he know so much about Adolph? How is he able to hone so perfectly into his weak spots? His knowledge of the man seemed unreal. Gustav was also possessed of an unbelievable misogynism. While I could believe the character could see a woman as “a blank page upon which the husband writes” (it seemed fairly typical of other 19th century drama, Ibsen in particular), his foray into the repulsion of women’s “hemorhaghing 13 weeks out of the year” and “having bodies that are that of a fatty, slovenly youth” (paraphrased) were just too much for me to digest. On the other hand, Adolphe’s nearly pornographic sculpture of his wife – on her back with her legs spread – was also just too much for me and made it hard to not burst out laughing. This was Adolphe’s ideal? He seemed to be rather humorously focused on her crotch. Ah, the Victorian psyche – who knows what made them tick!

As the play continues, we have Adolphe tear into Tekla, followed by Tekla and Gustav going at each other, and all of it ending in a glorious menage at the end – a wonderful celebration of the way human beings get to know each other so well through the bonds of love that they well and truly aquire the power and knowledge they need to completely destroy each other, mentally and physically. Chancellor is electric as Tekla, managing to be flirty, disgusted, loving, seductive, hateful, and very much her own woman throughout the show. Gustav seems rather a bit too mental … but provides a great foil for the rather evil (and certainly hateful) Adolphe. It all reminded me of Rosmersholme – and what a failure I consider that play to be, with its ultimately weak characters and over the top storyline. If only it had been as succinct as Creditors!

I was surprised to see the Donmar as sold out as ever for this evening and with standing room seats taken yet again – can this place ever produce a bomb? And who’d have suspected Alan Rickman of such directorial depths? For its 90 minute running time, it’s well worth standing through. That said, I must thank the West End Whingers for a heads up on getting tickets for this great show, which I consider to be the second best thing I’ve seen on stage this year. (Noel Cowards’ Brief Encounter is still my favorite, and it’s still running for a few more weeks – why not see them both?)

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 28th. Creditors runs through November 15th.)