13 Sep

BY Howard Brenton
AT THE Jermyn Street Theatre.
Under Tom Littler, the new artistic director at Jermyn Street, we are expecting great things – and his first coup is his own direction of a new play by the prolific and highly respected playwright  Howard Brenton.
It is a seriously written document about the ‘inferno’ years of August Strindberg,Swedish writer/painter  –and in this play ‘natural scientist’
During several years in the 1890s Strindberg became disenchanted both with theatre and his two ex wives, and, renting a room in a squalid Paris Hotel, decided to spend his time in alchemy – finding the formula for making gold.
Cherry Trulock’s set design immediately gives the impression of madness with huge splashes of colour on the painted flats. The lighting by William Reynolds is also highly colourful and eccentric .with sudden flashes of light and blackouts in between each scene along with swirls of music (composed by Max Pappenheim). The atmosphere of Stringberg’s confused brain has been created perfectly.
Jasper Britton is a wonderful character actor. The play begins with him, with limp shoulder length straggled hair, scruffy clothes and paint covered hands that have been burnt by the acid he is using to make gold. The voices he hears constantly are his own voice and the conversations he has with himself are produced miraculously so that at first it sounds as if they are on voice over.
The play begins with an altercation between the poet and the woman who comes to clean up his sordid apartment. He manages to bar her from the bathroom because the bath is full of the sludge – one of the stages in gold making. Laura Morgan plays Lola and she is a delight throughout the play.An unbeatable combination of beauty, wit, honesty and toughness.
The two wives arrive at different times. Both are trying to get him back to work as a playwright, bring  him back to sanity and give up his life as an Alchemist. His first wife Siri played by, Susannah Harker, is a Swedish actress and needs good roles, of the kind that he used to write for her. She tries to black mail him threatening to refuse him visits to the children. The second wife Frida (Gala Gordon) is much younger and wants to take him back to Germany.
As  we all know, he recovers f rom his indisposition and goes back to writing with renewed energy.
All very splendid, but I did find that two hours was a little too long to sit still and concentrate in the warmth of the theatre.  I thought that the scene with Frida came too quickly after the one with Siri and I felt in need of an interval. This is a purely personal point of view.

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