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The Collector, St Peter’s Church (site-specific)

Adaptation by Mark Healy

Directed by Theo Herghekegiu
Pros: Well adapted, intense play set in a magnificent theatre space.
Cons: The dark nature of this script will inevitably unnerve some audience members. Some of the acting felt a bit overly dramatic at times.
Our Verdict: A daring adaptation of this classic psychological thriller with some very good use of visuals. Elicits strong reactions from its audience.

Courtesy of Notting Hill Mayfest website

Admittedly, going to see The Collector was never going to be a light-hearted event. Walking through the gates of St Peter’s Church in Notting Hill, a beautifully fitting setting, I prepared myself for two full hours of suspense. Invited by the Notting Hill Mayfest all the way from Bucharest, Romania, this is a rarely performed adaptation of, quite frankly, a very scary novel. I expected to be put through my paces with this production, which should come as no surprise for those who have read the classic book by John Fowles or watched the 1965 Wyles’ movie adaptation.

As an audience member I put myself firmly in the hands of Mark Healy and his adaptation of this psychological thriller, following the words of Miranda, “Everybody should be made captive at least once in their life”. So I surrendered, ready for whatever emotional turmoil I was about to encounter, which is probably the best way to experience any piece of theatre.
The script itself is an angst-charged and dark tragedy following the emotionally under-developed Frederick, once butterfly collector and now lottery-winner-turned-sociopathic-kidnapper. Expanding his collection of living things to young, beautiful female specimens of the human variety, he begins stalking the young art student Miranda, and eventually kidnapping her with the help of chloroform and a rather big van. For Miranda this is the start of a living nightmare. She is forced into a cellar, dependent upon her jailor for food and survival, but she soon discovers that he is not after sex or money. Instead he wants to collect her very soul, wanting her to fall in love with him. As all her futile attempts at escape fail, she slowly descends into the horror of madness and desperation.
The team at Teatrul de Arta have certainly made every conceivable effort to evoke this feeling of desperation in the audience and they succeed well. Using the fundraising platform, Kickstarter, the creative team have clearly put a lot on the line to bring this production to life. The beautiful costumes by Sandra Galan, colourful and eccentric, along with clever projections by Cinty Ionescu add a much needed tone of light to the dark atmosphere of the cellar. Adriana Parvu plays a dignified Miranda, most moving in her desperation and striking in her portrayal of captivity. As a somewhat ‘damsel in distress’ character, it is hard to find the balance between distress and overly dramatic acting, and whilst for me some moments were slightly over played, she handled a difficult character well. The moments of brutal physicality during every desperate attempt to set herself free stood out for me in particular. However it is Archie Whyld’s performance as Frederick that chills the air. Untouched by his captive’s emotional outbursts, he is the perfect psychotic villain  His coldness and determination are chilling and yet his naivety of all things woman is near hilarious, giving his character even greater depth.
Of course, to demonstrate the subtle emotional mind game that transpires from Fowles’ novel is not an easy task in a life performance. I thought the innovative use of a camera to collect Miranda’s life was a clever transportation to the 21st Century. The alternating points of view, switching from captor to captive, which is the soul of the original novel, at times works very well with good use of lighting. Whilst one cannot expect to gain all the subtleties that the thriller novel gives to a reader, this performance gives audiences new sensations unique to its adaptation. The last dinner scene was particularly enjoyable too, with lots of feathers being scattered around from the pillow fight.
Overall, this was a laudable effort to recreate a classic psychological thriller with a modern twist. Crafted by a very talented team that deserves a bright future, most importantly this production was funded through a public source of supporters of the arts. It’s just a shame that you’ll need to trek it all the way to Rumania to catch them next, but hopefully this company will be invited back to the UK soon. Now, where was that damn exit from this cellar again?
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
The Collector ran at The Notting Hill MayFest on 17th and 18th May 2013.
The Notting Hill Mayfest runs from 10th May until 24th May 2013. For more information visit: http://www.nottinghillmayfest.org.uk/

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