Playing with Fire*** (Drayton Theatre, 31 May 2013)

Posted: June 3, 2013 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Early in this one-act play, a leading character asserts that marriage is much stronger without love and this sets the tone for a dissection of relationships that is always interesting, but rarely emotionally involving. Running at under an hour, it is one of Strindberg’s lesser known works and Serendipity Productions takes credit for rediscovering it and bringing it to this small West London venue. Director Anna Ostergren sees the play as very modern in its language and themes and, accordingly, she sets her production in the present day. Kerstin and Knut are a young married couple spending the Summer on a Swedish island when they are joined unexpectedly by Axel, a friend who had departed, suddenly and without explanation, the previous Summer. Also present are Kerstin’s parents, estranged from each other, and a young girl who becomes a focus for the admiration and/or jealousy of all the other characters. However, it is the rivalry that develops between Knut and Axel for the affections of Kerstin that is at the heart of the play. Strindberg’s hypothesis is that love both generates and feeds off jealousy. As the two men spar with each other, it becomes clear that jealousy is their prime motivation and that true feelings for Kerstin are secondary. Playing Knut and Axel, Andrew Wilson and James Heatlie struggle with dialogue that, in this rather prosaic translation, sometimes sounds stilted, but their cool detachment is consistent with the writer’s themes. They play games because they need to assuage their jealous feelings towards each other and this need becomes more important to them than the prize that awaits the winner. As the others parade around in smart Summer casuals, Tallulah Sheffield as Kerstin is set apart and deliberately made to look dowdy, her hair dishevelled, wearing a loose-fitting cardigan and long dark skirt. Yet she is the only character able to remind us that love also involves passion and pain. Whilst her two suitors play with fire, fittingly, it is only she who gets burned.

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