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A CurtainUp London Review
The Great Highway
The Great Highway follows the Hunter (Stephen Boxer), apparently on a walking holiday in the Alps. He meets another traveller (Laurence Penry-Jones) but neither actually go so far in friendship as to learn the other's name. The Hunter's journey, which is soon revealed to possess retrospective significance, has seven stages. These include a couple of millers fighting over the wind and the village of Esseldorf, where sanity is a crime punishable by death. Threatened by entrapment, the two travellers descend the mountain, and in doing so, they approach Hunter's past more closely. There is a murderer (Adam Meggido), a sagacious, genuine Japanese man (Chooi Beh), who is about to commit suicide, and the Hunter's own deserted daughter (Laura Sanchez). Finally, the Hunter is left alone with the Tempter who offers him a position at the court of the Grand Duke on the single condition that he "conducts himself like a normal human being."
Jon Bausor's design reflects the starkness of the drama. Sloped, askew square platforms intersect and overlap at asymmetrical angles. These frosted panels form a pathway which winds its way through the audience. It is an effective, impressionistic version of the Alps. There is mist and harsh lighting, while the actors' shouts have a mountain echo. The travellers wear Swiss brown walking boots, carry knapsacks and shiver with cold. The backdrop is portrayed by framed, lopsided posters, including one of the "Land of the Unfulfilled Wishes".
Gregory Motton's text, like his other Strindberg translations, employs words mostly from Germanic or Viking origin. This results in Scandinavian-sounding, pared-down language which is especially suited to the desolation of this play.
The director Wally Sutcliffe, primarily known for his operas, brings his sense of stylization to the production but also handles the cast well. In particular, there are strong central performances from Stephen Boxer and Laurence Penry-Jones who bring out the humanity in these allegorical figures.
This autobiographical allegory has no coherent, in-depth narrative and it is therefore difficult to maintain momentum across the seven disparate episodes. Strindberg's ultimate, self-indulgent piece provides an invaluable insight into the alienated artist's mind, including his grievances of harsh criticism and guilt at leaving his children. For those interested in the Strindberg, the play is an intriguing study in a man's undigested past. However, it is more intellectually stimulating than emotionally engaging and it remains a courageous production of a very difficult play.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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