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The Collector

27 June 2018

Obsession

The Collector

by Mark Healy

Teddington Theatre Club, Coward Studio, Hampton Hill Theatre until 30th June

Review by Melissa Syversen

The Collector: as soon as I heard the title of Teddington Theatre Club’s latest production I had a rather disconcerting feeling in my gut. This wouldn’t be an average trip to Hampton Hill Theatre, no matter how lovely the weather might have been. The Collector. It is quite remarkable just how sinister the title sounds, the little shiver it sends down the spine. This might be because the play by Mark Healy is based John Fowles’ debut novel by the same name. I was not aware of this book or just how famous it is, but some research quickly showed me what a huge impact the novel has had on popular culture. How many times have I been exposed to it indirectly through references and homages in TV and film? The book’s association with several famous real-life serial killers also adds a disturbing layer to the book and its place in the public collective consciousness.

The Collector is the story of the shy and unassuming Frederick Clegg, an entomologist, one who collects butterflies. We meet him as he tells us he will tell us his side of the story, as all stories have two sides he says. He is awkward, shy and avoids eye contact when possible. He tells us about Miranda Grey, a girl says he was in love with. As Frederick tells his story, he continues to claim he never planned to do what he did: he was happy watching Miranda and her beauty from afar. Things change however when Frederick wins the lottery and becomes a very wealthy man. Rather than travelling the world to collect rare butterflies for his collection, he buys a house, two hours’ drive outside of London, which he refurbishes, including the cellar.

TTC 2018_The Collector_Dress Rehearsal-9

Director Sophie Hardie cleverly moves the action of the story up to present day and shows the audience through video projected on a curtain how Frederick stalks Miranda on social media and taking hidden photographs. As the video plays, Frederick narrates the events that lead up to him finally kidnapping Miranda and locking her in the cellar of his new house. It is from here the actions picks up as Frederick pulls the curtain aside and we see Miranda awaken in her prison for the first time after being knocked out with chloroform. What follows are two hours of tense mental and physical struggle between captor and victim that grows deeper and more dangerous by the minute. Matt O’Toole plays the difficult part of Frederick Clegg, and he more than rises to the occasion. In his hands, Frederick is a twitchy, nervous man who avoids eye contact. He’s like a puppy that has been kicked, but as he sinks further into what he has done, he starts barring his teeth. Rachel Burnham is equally good as Miranda. Her Miranda is a clever and resourceful young woman. You can see the wheels turning in her head as she continuously tries different ways to escape and to understand what it is her captor truly wants. Rachel and Matt are clearly two actors who trust and respect each other and together they face the dark material at hand straight on.

 

Sophie Hardie and her team of designers make full use of their limited performance space. The audience is placed on either side of the playing space with Miranda’s childlike prison on one end to the doors of the playing space on the other. At times it even extends to outside the doors. Set designer Fiona Auty subtly plants the theme of butterflies throughout the show in small details such as bedding with butterfly patterns to butterfly wrapping paper. The more sinister nature in the play is hinted at throughout the piece through the sound and light designs by John Pyle and Nick Osorio. James Bedbrook’s Alfred Hitchcock inspired sound and music choices do feel a bit heavy-handed at times, but the mixing of Frederick’s narration and the final piece of video by Sarah J Carter sent a proper chill down my spine as I exited the room.

TTC 2018_The Collector_Dress Rehearsal-3

Writing-wise the play is structured in a way that suggests the writer wants us to empathise with Frederick. He is as the main narrator and is introduced to us as a seemingly harmless, misunderstood and lonely man. Miranda, by contrast, is portrayed as strong-willed, clever and assertive even when trapped within the circumstances she finds herself in. She curses, belittles and verbally harasses Frederick on multiple occasions. She too might have been lulled into a false sense of security by the seemingly hapless figure that is her kidnapper. It is a clever ploy and it creates an interesting twist to a dynamic that could easily have fallen into the ‘female victim’ trope. The ploy doesn’t quite land, however, but that is not the fault of Mark Healy or John Fowles. What undermines this ploy is quite simply reality. In a post-Fritzl world, it is hard to drum up any genuine sympathy towards Frederick no matter how sweet he might originally seem or how cruel Miranda gets.

TTC 2018_The Collector_Dress Rehearsal-10

As an audience member today, The Collector is not disturbing as a harrowing piece of fiction, it is scary because we know that this really happens. We see and read about such events like this again and again from Natascha Kampusch to the case of Ariel Castro. This is a legitimate fear, especially for young women, and unfortunately, kidnappings and imprisonments of this nature are not as rare and extreme an incident as we would perhaps like to think. As Frederick says, many more people would do things like this if they had the time and money. Now isn’t that just a terrifying thought?

Melissa Syversen
June 2018

Photography by Sarah J Carter

 

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