Jermyn Street Theatre, London (****)
August Strindberg is best known for the violence of his views on sexual politics. Miss Julie and Dance of Death are nothing if not agonised and agonising examinations of the hopeless wish to find equanimity in human relations between men and women.
So it’s welcome to come across two short plays by him that offer a slightly more tender view. We have to thank producer/director Andy Jordan, a Strindberg (and Ibsen) specialist and director, Jacob Murray, for this rare insight into another side of Strindberg in translations by the man, Michael Meyer, who made the work of the Scandinavian `modernists’, Ibsen and Strindberg, his own.
Of the two, Storm is by far the more mature, meaty prospect with The Stronger, a two-hander (unusually for two women) little more than a 20 minute curtain raiser. Even so, it’s impossible not to detect autobiography and theatre connections in both, though written at different periods – The Stronger when he was still with his first wife, Siri, Storm towards the end of his life – inspired by one of his later wives, Harriet Bosse.
The Stronger in which a devoted wife encounters the possible actress young lover of her husband in a cafe, is fascinating not least for its projection by its author onto the characters. Though the main protagonist is female, you can feel Strindberg churning away in the gamut of emotions his Madame X goes through from suspicion to awareness, to hate, contempt and ultimate superiority – `I’m going home to love him’ – whilst the younger woman sits silent throughout.
With Storm, we catch sight of a mellower Strindberg in the character of the Gentleman – a husband who has been through a tortuous divorce now reconciled to the `the peace of old age’ in a hotel housing various other (unseen) characters including again, some from the theatre.
Jacob Murray’s production on the tiny Jermyn Street theatre stage gives us an extraordinary sense of a hermetic world through dedication to detail, Emma Marguerite Lynch’s handsome costumes and solid, sensitive characterisation from that fine actor, Paul Herzberg as the husband, Robin Kingsland as his brother, Douglas McFerran as a nearby cafe owner and Sara Griffiths as the wife turning up once more in her husband’s life hoping for reconciliation.
A subtle, sympathetic, even humorous portrait of both, there are nonetheless some very familiar Strindbergian traits, notably the pain of intimacy and the relief expressed by the husband at feeling free of any pressures being placed upon him by a woman! Also Strindberg’s eternal pessimism and bleakness in seeing constant destruction performed on beauty and innocence by life’s fortunes.
But there are also quieter, more appealing insights too regarding the past, memories, ghosts lodged in buildings and a strange and rather wonderful atmosphere created of regularity and a close-knit community endangered by the arrival of the unfamiliar and the unexpected.
One for Strindberg connoisseurs, definitely worth a viewing!
Strindberg’s Women runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre to Nov 26, 2016.
Review first published on this site, Nov 12, 2016
Two plays by August Strindberg
And the London premiere of
Storm translated by Michael Meyer
Madame X: Sara Griffiths
Mademoiselle Y: Alice Frankham
Waitress: Abbiegale Duncan
The Gentleman: Paul Herzberg
The Brother: Robin Kingsland
Gerda: Sara Griffiths
Louise: Alice Frankham
Strong: Douglas McFerran
Agnes: Abbiegale Duncan
Fisher/The Drayman/The Ice-Man/The Postman/The Lamplighter: Paul Heelis
Directed by: Jacob Murray
Set and Costume Design by: Emma Marguerite Lynch
Lighting and Sound by: Francis Watson-Laflamme
Casting Director: Ellie Collyer-Bristow
Producer: Andy Jordan
Presented by Andy Jordan Productions and Elysium Theatre Company
First perf of this production of Strindberg’s Women at Jermyn Street Theatre, London, Nov 2, 2016