Neil Smith after Strindberg
Living record
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Creditor Credit: Andreas Grieger
Creditor Credit: Andreas Grieger
Creditor Credit: Andreas Grieger

Neil Smith attempts an adaptation of Strindberg’s classic in the black box of Jack Studio Theatre.

A love triangle, a story of deceit, of art and madness are all prefect ingredients for a sublime drama that has a hint of dark humour.

Adolph (Tice Oakfield), a vulnerable artist is manipulated by his new friend Gustav (Paul Trussell) into turning against his wife Tikla (Rachel Heaton) who, according to Gustav, has stolen Adolph’s soul. Tikla has become a famous writer and Adolph is still an unknown artist.

As it is soon revealed, Gustav is Tikla’s estranged ex-husband and it is all part of Gustav’s scheme to take revenge against the beautiful Tikla. His plans are made easy by the fragile Adolph, who is persecuted by his own demons, the voices that threaten his sanity.

This adaptation has kept intact the core of the original play with the intense confrontations between the characters in the claustrophobia of a hotel room, dominated by the moral tragedy of vindictiveness and destructiveness. And, while the weakest in this cycle of self-indulgence is Adolph, the young victim of this love triangle, Adolph himself also has his vanity to blame as he sees in the wife’s success his own demise.

The actors and the production give their heart and soul to interpret the voracity of a play that strips the characters down to impulses and a profound dislike for one another. This is, at least, the mark of this adaptation that, from the very start till the very end, gives space to nothing else but a burst of emotions.

This is also the great merit of the cast who manage with some bravura and consistency to maintain such a level of intensity. Tice Oakfield is constantly, feverishly twirling and gasping for air while giving some poignant delivery. Paul Trussell makes his mark with his mannerism of devious unhinged manipulator. Rachel Heaton matches the other two with her charm and seductiveness.

The heightened acting and some directorial choices (Ross Drury), however, make this a laborious, and at times, a tiring theatrical experience, especially towards the end. The characters are stuck in their mould and there is nowhere for them to go or develop.

There is a sense that their confrontations could continue endlessly: once the play finishes, one feels more a sense of relief than closure. The choice of making Gustav a highly caricaturesque figure undermines the strength of his character. His deviousness is translated into a low criminal’s demonic sliminess and one wonders why the Gustav that can manipulate and charm has been replaced by such a whimsical masquerade.

The adaptation itself naïvely sets the play in modern times by putting it in the context of a distant riot (apparently of the poor against the rich), supposedly somewhere outside the hotel room. References to the riot are rare in the words of Neil’s adaptation and the only tangible presence is the screams that are very hard-to-hear background ‘noise’ to a production that tries too hard to modernize the original play.

Strindberg’s classic can surely talk to contemporary audiences without the additional gasps of revolution.

Reviewer: Mary Mazzilli

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