The Collector

John Fowles, adapted for the stage by Mark Healy
Arcola and Aslan Productions in association with Not So Loud
Arcola Theatre
(2008)

Publicity image

It is said that if you stand in Leicester Square for long enough you will see someone you know. Director Ben Caplan begins Mark Healy's adaptation of John Fowles' novel (later a film) with flickering projected crowd images that gradually shift focus onto one particular face, pinpointing the beginning of pathological obsession.

For art student Miranda, Frederick Clegg is a fleeting memory from the job centre; for him, Miranda is an unwitting catalyst for the unleashing of latent tendencies, allowing a progression from lonely butterfly collecting to the netting and pinning-down of a human subject, and on whom he has compiled a personal dossier to rival that of the best private detective.

That his argument seems at times almost plausible is due to a masterful performance from Mark Fleischmann as Frederick (never Fred or Freddie) who combines comic timing, charm, and chilling delivery in his personification of a delusion that ascribes blame onto wealth from a lottery win, allowing the purchase of secluded-house-with-cellar, rather than personal culpability.

In locking his gaze onto individual spectators, Fleischmann's monologues become private confessions, begging understanding. Reading between the lines - his courteous 'please don't oblige me to use force again' - reveals the 'monster' concealed behind the cute outer-packaging.

Rosalind Drury as Miranda shows stage-commanding promise in her first major theatrical role, her waiflike persona belying a steely resolve to survive, and whose intermittently explosive rage encapsulates sheer exasperation, both in attempting to apply logic to the illogical, and at the loss of a brave new world that only now seems truly precious.

There are indeed two sides to every story, and it is through her spoken diary entries that the terrified girl is revealed, herself somewhat obsessed with George, an older academic mentor, for whom she has never felt good enough. Her misjudged, mistimed 'masterstroke' with Frederick is the play's dramatic apogee

The giving and taking of lighting is used to stunning effect by Richard Howell: twinkling fairy lights descend to depict Miranda's temporary respite (albeit, bound and supervised) into dewy garden freshness; and the illumination of her lovely face adds pathos to a lament at having not seen the sun for so long.

Moments like these cement the claustrophobic, dank, horror of the cell, assisted by the smallness of the venue and contemporary revelations of grim cellar contents that provide a psychological blueprint of capture and co-dependency.

Despite Drury's touching fortitude, the story is hope-less and unsettling in its tenor that one person, at random, can change another's life and how that life is remembered. Frederick's summation that we must learn from our mistakes is tempered by the realisation that his work will continue, next time devoid of 'love' - his one redeeming quality.

It is disquieting that book and film have been implicated as ciphers for past serial killers. But, as a theatrical experience, The Collector is faultless. It perhaps takes a threat to one's liberty to fully appreciate what freedom means: never has the idea of being a boring, faceless unknown seemed so attractive.

Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler