A review by Leila Sellars for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

The Faction Theatre Company
 

Strindberg’s Apartment

 

by Simon Reade

 

Director - Mark Leipacher

 

New Diorama Theatre

 

8 Feb – 26 Feb 2011

 

Strindberg’s Apartment, a new play by Simon Reade, weaves together five of the Swedish writer August Strindberg’s one act plays (The Storm, After the Fire, The Ghost Sonata, The Pelican and The Black Glove). Set in the claustrophobic apartment in which Swedish – born Strindberg spent the last few years of his life; the play explores the life within the building. Characters are used to portray different elements of human nature, as well as drawing on more universal, metaphysical concepts that link the threads together.

Overall the play is at best, frustrating. Conceptually, the conceit of several story lines running at once - never quite over lapping, but all ultimately drawing towards the same end is interesting and refreshingly different. But the idea never quite fulfils its' potential. This may be due, in part, to the space in which Strindberg’s Apartment is staged. Rather than conjuring a sense of suffocating claustrophobia, in which each story line is fighting for room amidst the mass of people and life within the apartment, the stage instead feels confused and cluttered, and struggles to maintain a sense of atmosphere. At times, the ensemble cast (17 in total, and outnumbering the audience at the performance I attended) threatens to overwhelm the audience. The play feels as if it loses momentum amidst a confusion of people and action, which fails to maintain a clear sense of purpose.

Equally, the actors struggle to find their footing beyond the superficial, and often feel more like caricatures of desperate housewives, lonely old men, or angry, vengeful students, rather than a clever interpretation of macrocosmic ideas set within a microcosm. Towards the end, where the play enters a more metaphysical space, the lack of character definition means that, although there are some interesting ideas at work, particularly the exploration of death at the ‘ghost supper’ – it still feels frustratingly woolly and confusing.

There are however, truly delightful moments within this piece. Joe Wredden gives a subtle and intelligent performance as The Concierge. He gives the part an understated, quiet depth, which many of the other actors are missing and manages to give us a glimpse of perhaps what Strindberg’s Apartment is attempting to create. We watch The Concierge analyse and question the life around him. Wredden plays this beautifully, as he slinks about the stage, pushing the play beyond the boundaries of the real and into the realms of the unknown. Knight Mantell as Jacob Hummel, also provides a flash of gold amid shades of grey. Sadly, the strength of these two actors, while giving the audience rare moments of genuinely exciting theatre, only emphasises the limited nature of the production in general.

The set, while suffering from the confines of the space, is inventive. The apartment building is interpreted through floor plans - white diagrams drawn directly on to the black floor. In theory, this is a clever way of expressing the cramped, many-roomed building in which the action takes place, but with the confusion of characters on stage, the idea doesn’t entirely translate.

Of course, arguably, this production deliberately leaves much to interpretation, and the programme introduction (by director Mark Leipacher) clearly states that his aim was to create something nebulous that could be understood according to the perceptions of each audience member. An interesting concept, but, in this instance a clearer directive vision may have helped untangle threads of an idea that seemed to have become inadvertently knotted, rather than woven, together.

 

Box Office: 08442 090 344

www.newdiorama.com

New Diorama Theatre
15 Triton Street
Regent’s Place
London
NW1 3BF

 

£14 (Concessions £10)

Every Tuesday: TWOS DAYS (special offer of 2 full price tickets for the price of 1. Tickets must be booked in advance of the day of performance and are subject to availability)



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