Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

In Memory of Edgar Lutzen

David Hauptschein
Old Red Lion
(2010)

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In a dark and claustrophobic room overlooking the dismal sights of the workhouse, a crazed artist experiences his feverish breakdown. Veering between revelation and dark jealousies, his mother, friend, wife and housekeeper all take their roles in trying to pacify the absinthe drinking Lutzen but as they become projections of his tormented mind, and he spirals towards his end.

This all sounds like the drama of a good night out at the Old Red Lion. Sadly, it isn't. The fiction is advertised as highly based around of the diaries of dramatist August Strindberg in his Occult following days, which is all well and good, but why then does it need a prised away layer of needless fiction to frame the narrative? Haupstschein creates a painter who has given up painting and taken up alchemy, but to what end? With this fundamental question unanswered from the beginning of the play to the end, the piece is off to a rather irredeemable start.

However, we soldier onwards with Tom Cornish's distracted Lutzen, Maria Dalberg's mournful Harriet, and the all too highly characterised Maria Golledge as the skirt wringing, toothy housekeeper. And we soldier on for an unnecessarily long two hours. This is the repetitive and rather boring side of mental breakdowns that doesn't get quite so much media coverage. It is little wonder. After the artists death the characters left still standing may experience his influence still, but the audience are only glad to be released to the freedom of the night air.

While Stella Scott's suitably oppressive design brings in some lovely use of the red rose wall paper, this is one of the few truly artistic touches in the painter's otherwise dour life. Scott is to be congratulated for lifting the play to otherwise unjustifiable heights. While the actors work hard with turgid material for which they are to be commended, only Scott's design lightens this dark night.

Reviewer: Sacha Voit