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A CurtainUp London Review
Review in London by Charlotte Loveridge
The plot focuses on the relationship between an invalid husband and his older, free-thinking wife. In spite of their artistic lifestyles full of creativity and egoism, the shadow of the wife's former tyrannical husband, roundly and very publicly abused in her first novel, lurks over them. Meanwhile, the husband's physical weakness is matched by his spiritual impressionability and his emotional sanity starts to crumble. We see him interrogated by an apparently supportive mentor-medical figure, who advises him that he is in mortal danger of epilepsy, linked to his "excessive signs of love" for his wife.
In an accomplished cast of just three, each part is equally weighted and crucial. Tom Burke plays the husband Adolph as a weakling and voluble fool without utterly sacrificing pity for his plight. Anna Chancellor is his dazzling wife Tekla— self-centred, vain and proud, but also the most sympathetic of the characters. With her vision of humanity, ("No guilt - only people; fallen human beings trying to do the best they can"), it is a shame that her worldview is not reflected more in the play's own outlook. Owen Teale is the local doctor-style figure of Gustav, menacing in his phlegmatic calmness as he wreaks psychological devastation. Reminiscent of Iago, he is chillingly played as a manipulative force of sheer negation.
The set design by Ben Stones is a minimalist, white-washed stage of a Swedish hotel's lounge. Tall rain-streaked Velux windows tower above the stage and a moat of real water unobtrusively surrounds it, adding the vague sense of warfare, siege and inescapability.
This production is intelligent and earnest in spite of some rather clunkily directed movement. It is a play with a deep vein of misanthropy, as well as more specific misogyny. The characters simply are not likeable enough to guarantee interest, let alone sympathetic engagement. Although often compared to Othello, it lacks the heroism either of the angelically innocent Desdemona or the glorious stature of Othello himself. The overwhelmingly nihilistic impetus portrays a view of a warped human race where there is no hope, help or even mitigating explanation, just conflict without understanding. With vague theorising and rationalising, the characters are immersed in a mire of subjective half-truths and no single impartial version of the past is ascertainable. This annihilating vision of men and women's relations has palpable rawness, but also a desolation of spirit and warmth. The play may be deliberately appalling but this necessarily means that it is also a deeply unpleasant viewing experience.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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