A MADMAN’S CONFESSION
by Harriet Mann.
White Bear Theatre 138 Kennington Park Road SE11 4DJ To 3 January 2010.
28-30 Dec, 2 Jan 7.30pm 3 Jan 4pm.
Runs 1hr No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7793 9193.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 December.
Pointed view of Strindberg as a beginner.
A measure of hindsight’s suggested by the title of Harriet Mann’s new play. For Swedish writer August Strindberg wrote his Madman’s Confession in 1887, twelve years after the action of this play begins. Even then, he couldn’t know how paranoia and psoriasis would strike in his 1890s ‘Inferno’.
At the time of the Confession Strindberg was working on The Father and Miss Julie, two of his famous attacks on women. But in Mann’s play he’s still a cheery, if intense, young man seeking what any young playwright wants – someone to produce his play.
The impoverished minor aristocrats he visits will split apart, the Baroness returning to the stage, leaving with the young playwright. She is Siri von Essen, later his first wife.
So there are significant undercurrents under the sociable conversation, which Harriet Mann’s production of her script too rarely brings out, making the final explosion of tension between August and Siri too sudden an eruption, and favouring Justin Segal’s Baron. As the one least profoundly involved in the triangle, Segal’s is the most successful characterisation here.
Tension mainly appears when Strindberg listens critically to Siri acting. Elsewhere, what seems meant as understated tension remains merely underplaying. The performers, though technically accomplished, need more confidence in adapting their skill to the needs of a script that makes complex demands under and around the dialogue.
Yet there’s a lot here that’s impressive. Both script and production use short scenes as a genuine montage rather than a miscellaneous set of snapshots. And the production maintains the dramatic reality through scene changes, partly thanks to well-chosen music, but also to openings that never seem arbitrary. And to scenes that develop situations and relationships with economy, yet never seem cramped despite their brevity, and which often end with telling visual moments.
Whatever the limitations, there is a strength running throughout this piece, which takes its material and its audience seriously without becoming ponderously obscure or portentously overblown. It’s the work of a writer and director who knows how to leave space for performers to work and create more through the appearance of less.
Strindberg: Henry Blake.
Baroness: Lucy Bruegger.
Baron: Justin Segal.
Elsa: Joyia Fitch.
Director: Harriet Mann.
Designer/Costume: Fly Davis.
Lighting: Jacob Mason-Dixon.
Sound/Composer: Edward Lewis.