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Review of Strindberg’s Women at Jermyn Street Theatre

Strindberg’s WomenStrindberg’s Women, a presentation of two short plays by August Strindberg – Storm and The Stronger – allows us to revisit dramatic writings of such a sophisticated power as to cross the boundaries of time, race, social class and gender. One need only to bask in the philosophical musings of Storm which, at its core, is a falling away of love, hate, possession, jealousy – all the trappings of pride, youth and virility – in an attempt to embrace peace in the twilight years of one’s life.

Storm poses brutal questions about love – the agony and the ecstasy. But is the turmoil ever really worth it? Perhaps one is wiser to revisit the memory of a past relationship than to encounter it in the present. The character of the Gentleman, an elderly government minister (Paul Herzberg) muses that ‘loneliness has its drawbacks but you are free to come and go’. He is staying at a country house where he once lived with his young wife and their child. He married his bride at age 50 and kept his promise to dissolve the marriage when his advancing years became a burden to her. When we meet him, we learn that he is divorced, has no contact with his child and prefers, instead, the company of his brother (Robin Kingsland) and a game of chess with Louise, the young housekeeper (Alice Frankham). There are vestiges of his past married life that he returns to in memory – like a hazy portrait of Still Life – one to be gazed upon for a moment or two before turning away. But when his divorced wife and child become lodgers in the same country house, along with her new husband, a fierce emotional storm erupts.

The shorter of the two plays, The Stronger, is a poignant enactment of doubt. We are introduced to a young woman, Mademoiselle Y (Alice Frankham). She is alone in a cafe on Christmas Eve, drinking a beverage and reading a magazine. Madame X (Sara Griffiths), a married woman ladened with gifts, enters the cafe and, recognising Mademoiselle Y, begins a conversation with her. We learn that each woman is an actress but that Madame X gave up acting for marriage and children, while Mademoiselle Y is single and independent. What makes The Stronger so powerful is that Mademoiselle Y says nothing for the 15-minute duration of the piece and yet her grimaces, body posture, and uproarious laughter work in dialogue with Madame X in more powerful ways than if she had actually spoken.

The piece begins with a fraught conviviality but soon descends into accusation and rage. Madame X is certain that the younger woman is having/has had an affair with her husband. But this is neither confirmed or denied in the structure of the play, nor through an admission. We are left wondering who is The Stronger? Or is it a sarcasm? Perhaps it is the husband of Madame X who benefits from his wife’s care and attention while, she, Madame X is poisoned by her doubts and suspicions. As for Mademoiselle Y, we are not sure if she is no more than a looking glass that reflects back to Madame X her own dissatisfaction with the wifely role she propounds to love so much.

Although each cast member presents us with a flesh and blood character, let it be said that Alice Frankham is a marvel to behold as Mademoiselle Y. In her wordlessness, she reveals her character’s feelings of contempt, bemusement, and indifference to the accusations levied at her and I found myself anticipating her reactions throughout the entire piece. Finally, much praise to the director Jacob Murray and Emma Marguerite Lynch for her set and costume design. They truly brought to the fore the genius of Strindberg, a playwright for all times.

5 Stars

Review by Loretta Monaco

in association with Jermyn Street Theatre present: STRINDBERG’S WOMEN: THE STRONGER and the London premiere of STORM
by August Strindberg
Translated by Michael Meyer
Performed together for the first time in this country, THE STRONGER and STORM, are a testament to the power of Strindberg’s writing. Love and hate, sex and jealousy do battle in an electrifying evening’s theatre.

Paul Herzberg (National Theatre, RSC, Almeida), Sara Griffiths (National Theatre, Royal Court, Chichester Festival Theatre), Robin Kingsland, Douglas MacFerran (Sliding Doors), Alice Frankham, Abbiegale Duncan, Paul Heelis

Strindberg’s Women
Jermyn Street Theatre,
16b Jermyn Street,
London SW1Y 6ST

Strindberg’s Women
Wed, 2nd – Sat, 26th November 2016

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