This is one intellectual heft of a piece of theatre and for that reason it most definitely is not for everyone. If you are even considering a coin toss between this and Wicked, showing down the road at The Playhouse, I’d probably recommend you opt for the green faced fun.
Because fun is not an adjective I’d reach for in describing David Greig’s adaptation of August Strindberg’s 1888 Swedish tragicomedy. (For Celtic fans I am sorry to advice that there are no references to Hibernian FC setting up their B team in Glasgow at that time).
There are laughs in act one, don’t get me wrong, but not fun laughs. Sharp intakes of breath precede most of them as we observe, almost voyeuristically, an encounter between two men nearing the end of a six hour conversation (or is it a therapy session) that may have started out as, or may be concluding with, a detailed autopsy on the young Adolph’s infatuated love for his wife Tekla. The older man has much advice for his sappy companion, all of which undermines him and his relationship with his wife.
It’s a complex, extremely dense psychological drama that has a neat technological twist in Act Three that breathes a great deal of life into what would otherwise be a marathon two hour sitting.
Indeed the Act 3 device is both innovative and exciting and makes the last act crack along to its dramatic conclusion.
Director Stewart Laing has introduced an intermissionary theme that uses a UK Garage track to underscore a group of Girl Guides robotically trekking through the surrounding Swedish countryside. It’s funny, fresh and ultimately plays a role in the play’\s denouement. I liked it a lot. Although entirely (and deliberately) out of place its very presence emphasises the tension that is developing in the main body of the play.
On returning to the dialogue, each time, it accentuates the cold, serious tone that reflects the period, location and nature of the play with its deliberately mannered acting.
And so that brings me to the performances. Edward Franklin, Stuart McQuarrie and Adura Onashile present a master class between them. It’s difficult to present material this dense whilst maintaining the audience’s deep concentration and to make what could easily turn into a dirge a vibrant enthralling psychological drama.
Really this a supremely confident and grown up production that would be packing them in on a London stage. Let’s hope there are enough wise old souls in Edinburgh wiling to take a chance on a play that rewards throughout and leaves a deeply satisfying aftertaste to savour long after.