This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com
John Fowles’ debut novel about a butterfly collector who kidnaps the girl of his dreams and keeps her in his basement was first published in 1963 and turned into a successful film shortly thereafter. With only two characters and a single set, it is hardly surprising that stage adaptations followed, the version by Mark Healy seen here being the latest.
Audiences are asked to wind their way through a maze of darkened tunnels under Waterloo Station to find the over-furnished cellar, designed by Max Dorey, that is home for the captive Miranda. The journey sets the mood perfectly. The room has been filled lovingly with everything that it’s occupant may need to make her happy. She has been captured by Frederick not for ransom, not for sex but because he genuinely believes that he loves her and that she will come to reciprocate his feelings.
Inevitably, real-life cases of stalking, abduction and incarceration hang over the play and sour the tone, but what is most extraordinary about Fowles’ story is how it overturns perceptions and expectations. Small details in the play suggest that it is set much later than the novel, but the social issues that it raises still have a feel of the 1960s. Miranda is comfortably off and middle class, but Frederick is uncultured, sexually repressed and beset by a sense of inferiority. A lottery win instils in him the belief that money can get him everything that he yearns for, including Miranda.
Chatting amiably directly to the audience, Daniel Portman’s Frederick is more an ardent suitor than a malicious abductor. He strips the character of menace to the point that the audience starts rooting for him, wanting him to get the girl, while still knowing that what he is doing is very wrong. This inversion of type is what makes the play so interesting, as it asks us to reflect on how relationships develop in natural circumstances and on how gender and social factors impact upon them.
Lilly Loveless makes Miranda a Miss Bossy Boots, continually manoeuvring and testing Frederick’s limits while struggling to gain the upper hand and achieve her liberty. Healy’s version of the story is more a battle of wills between the two protagonists than a suspense thriller and it only becomes truly sinister towards the end.
There is one small criticism of Joe Hufton’s taut and lucid production, which is that his staging needs to give more consideration to the poor sight lines at this venue. In all, The Collector is an intriguing piece that feeds off its own moral ambiguity and translates almost perfectly from page to stage.
Performance date 4 August 2016
Photo: Scott Rylander