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Playing With Fire, Drayton Arms

Johan August Strindberg
Translated and Directed by Anna Ostergren


Pros: The tension of the play is palpable throughout, making for exciting viewing.

Cons: Some of the acting didn’t quite work for me.

Our Verdict: A tense piece of work focusing closely and effectively on human relationships. While an hour isn’t necessarily long enough to engage with characters, Playing with Fire is a wonderfully tense production with extremely strong direction. 

Tucked away just off of Gloucester Road, the Drayton Arms appears to be your typical South Kensington

Courtesy of Manos Fotiou

bar. On the rare sunny evening of my visit, groups of people had spilled onto the street with their after-work beers to bask in the warm weather and soak up the relaxed atmosphere of evening. Were it not for the chalkboard vibrantly advertising its existence, a theatre is the last thing you might expect to find nestled inside the majestic bar. But up a flight of stairs and you find yourself sitting on a padded bench in a large, dark performance space. In their new production Playing with Fire, Serendipity Productions transform this space into the sitting room of Knut and Kerstin (pronounced Sheston), a young married couple living in the house of Knut’s invasive parents.

The play itself is a brand new translation by director Anna Ostergren of Johan August Stringberg’s original. Just one hour long, its single act tells the story of a love triangle between Knut, Kerstin and their mysterious friend Axel, who had departed secretly the previous year and recently returned just as unexpectedly. Also resident in the house are Knut’s parents and the abrasive Adele, Knut’s occasional mistress and his father’s closest companion. The dynamics of the various relationships within the framework of the narrative are complex and demonstrate the insecure and indefinable nature of human interaction. It is difficult to build a solid understanding of a character in the space of an hour, however the small cast built upon Ostergon’s translation admirably. Their rapidly alternating attitudes to one another being supported by changing mannerisms, rates of speech and levels of visible discomfort and agitation. In particular, Tallulah Sheffield as Kerstin played the level confusion of her character with a gradually disintegrating level of composure, and her transformation from contented wife to hysterical woman trying to leave her husband, then back again to her original state, was performed with expert lucidity.

Ostergren made excellent use of the Drayton Theatre’s performance space. The central focus of the set was a raised wooden platform, on which sat a couple of armchairs and a table, both of which were strewn with everyday objects which came into relevance as the play developed. In one unfortunate moment a chair leg did escape off the back of the decking, and the arrogant composure of Adele was momentarily threatened. Samantha Michelle kept her head, however, and simply built in a snide laugh to her line. Combined with James Heatlie’s aggravated dropping of the chair back into place to emphasise the point his character Axel is making in the moments that followed, one couldn’t be blamed for thinking that perhaps the episode was meant to have occurred. The best feature of the direction, however, was that the characters were not restricted to this small area in the centre of the stage. Rarely ever static for more than a couple of lines, the cast constantly moved about the room with action taking place all over, rather than in one focal point. Alongside the use of multiple entrances and exits, this ensured that Playing with Fire had a very organic feel to its directing, crucial to a play set, as this one is, in the characters’ real-time, therefore Anna Ostergren and her cast make brilliant use of what could have been a fairly restrictive performance space.

Playing with Fire is a profound take on modern day relationships, and marriages in particular. Concepts such as honour, honesty and loyalty are called into question, pulled at from every which way and eventually completely remoulded. While it is difficult to come to terms with all of the conflicts packed into an hour of performance time, Serendipity Productions have put the piece together to contain a delicious tension which keeps interest levels peaked and unfaltering throughout. Playing with Fire is a thought-provoking take on the modern day relationship, and a visit to the charming Drayton Arms is to strongly recommended.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below!

Playing with Fire runs until 22nd June 2013.
Box office: 0207 835 2301 or book online at http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/search/searchVenueDetails.asp?venue_id=28680

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