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The Blinding Light (Susan Elkin reviews)

It’s a real pleasure to see a tight, intelligent, grown-up straight play. And when you do, you realise how unusual it has become. Howard Brenton’s The Blinding Light is a low-budget four-hander about the period in which August Strindberg disappeared from public view.

It is set in a squalid room at the Hotel Orfila in Paris in 1896 where Stringberg (Jasper Britton) is practising alchemy and is visited by three women. The general historical consensus is that he was deep in some sort of psychotic episode during his “inferno” years. The plays he wrote after it were quite different from the ones which preceded it. Perhaps, in a sense, the alchemy worked. Brenton, always a fine storyteller, explores that idea.

Long haired and filthy, Britton gives an outstanding performance in this reflection on madness sexual relationships and fitting into the world. He roars with anger, darts about, speaks (in his beautifully modulated actorly RP) to himself and his visitors, sometimes calm, sometimes frightened, often anguished and always impassioned. He literally talks to the walls too, which “answer” him in a higher pitched voice – and of course Britton is adept at switching from one mode to the other.

There’s terrific work too from Laura Morgan as the knowing, presumptuous, perceptive, manipulative chambermaid. She and Britton have a noticeable knack of listening – really listening – to each other so that the acting disappears and they become totally convincing. Susannah Harker glitters as Siri, his first wife, a former actress who is coldly and rationally worrying about money, trying to get her ex husband certified and denied access to their three children. Gala Gordon is appealing as the younger, more glamorous, sexier second wife although neither of them every get their dialogue quite as naturalistic as Morgan does.

Full marks to Cherry Truluck for a simple set with brightly coloured (think Impressionist daubs gone wrong) screens. And Emily Stuart’s costumes are lovely for the women (Where can I buy a coat like the one Gala Gordon wears?) and imaginative – white pyjama style overalls for Britten streaked with dirt, paint and chemicals.

Tom Littler, who directs this cracking drama, recently took over the artistic directorship of Jermyn Street Theatre. We are promised much more home produced work in the future, rather than its being mostly a receiving house as the venue did previously. If The Blinding Light represents the quality we can expect then I, for one, am pretty excited.

First published by Sardines http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?reviewsID=2971

 

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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