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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
by Charlotte Loveridge

The tears of the evening are the joys of the morning.
--- Kristina
Bo Poroj as Elis and Katherine Tozer as Kristina
(Photo: John Haynes)
This production of Strindberg's Easter would seem to be an anomaly: matching one of Britain's most innovative young directors with a translator who polemically advocates fidelity to original texts. The result, however, is refreshingly superb.

Easter depicts the Heyst family, still suffering in shame and financial insecurity for the criminal past of their now imprisoned patriarch. They are threatened by creditors and socially excluded by humiliation. The son Elis (Bo Poraj) works in a school, teaching the sons of men who lost their money to Elis' fraudulent father. His capriciously vacillating moods are at the whim of the weather. He strongly resents his family's social degradation and shame, is jealously possessive of his fiancée and sees little chance of any reprieve. His mother (Sally Edwards) obdurately clings to her conviction that her innocent husband was wronged by others and to the hope that he might be pardoned in spite of his confession. Into the domestic gloominess, her daughter Eleonora (Frances Thorburn) returns home after escaping from a lunatic asylum and heralds a new beginning for the stricken family. Occurring during the Easter holiday, the family scenario mirrors the religious festival: moving from suffering to deliverance.

Strindberg drew the character of Eleonora very affectionately and without a hint of his misogynistic leanings. Inspired by his own sister Elizabeth, who was at the time in an asylum, the part was originally written for Harriet Bosse, an actress Strindberg was in love with. Eleonora is otherworldly and enigmatic. Her childish stories are interspersed with insightful wisdom and she defies any attempt to pinpoint her age, an aspect of her character well-brought out by the excellent casting. Eleonora is incredibly perceptive, especially of others' sufferings. This evidence either of her insanity or her quasi-telepathic abilities adds to her elusive ambiguity. On her way home, Eleonora naively lets herself into a shut-up florists to get a daffodil, an act which is unwittingly construed as burglary. Her own trivial crime, motivated by thoughtlessness and folly rather than malice or self-gain, is a compressed re-enactment of her father's crime of embezzlement.

A schoolboy living with the Heysts, Benjamin, sweetly yet skilfully played by Nicolas Shaw, first enters reeling from the hilariously catastrophic tragedy of writing ut with the indicative instead of the subjunctive in his Latin exam. Eleonora captivates and recovers him and their touching friendship leads the way towards the adults' resolution of altruism, trust and redemption.

Linkvist (Edward Peel), the most menacing of the creditors, endangers the Heysts' precarious prosperity throughout the play. As he passes the house, the family absurdly hide behind curtains and under tables whilst melodramatic music exaggerates their terror. He is physically intimidating and when confronting Elis, makes the young man look like a cowered child. Dressed in galoshes and a heavy overcoat, his distorted shadow or reflection frequently doubles his already considerable size. This emphasizes the fairytale quality surrounding Linkvist, the "giant who scares children but doesn't eat them". This might not be everyone's idea of conveying the solemnity of Strindberg's symbolism, but it evocatively captures the sense of the religious holiday with a childlike parable experience: re-enacting the momentous biblical story in a small way. Linkvist embodies retributive justice, akin to the divine: "Everything comes full circle" but this fortunately includes an act of simple humanity, performed decades earlier.

The set and lighting is airy although homely. The expansive windows glance out onto fir trees with bright sunlight and snow. No attempt is made to mirror the family's feelings of being trapped by their history in visual terms. Instead, the sense of entrapment depends entirely upon the characters' presentation of the past's tyrannical domination over their current lives.

Gregory Motton's new translation combines genuine reverence for the original as well as an acute awareness of the modern audience's response to the tone and register of his language. Avoiding words with Latin or French roots to give more of a Scandinavian flavour, this translation is emphatically not an acculturation of Strindberg. All touches of foreignness are preserved and any strangeness is left unneutralized. However laudable the intentions of so accurate a translation, to be able to perform it successfully is an extremely difficult task. Tribute must therefore go to Dominic Dromgoole's outstanding direction. In particular, he brings out a delightful strain of humour which is not normally associated with Strindberg. Comprehensively countering the stereotype of Strindberg as a playwright of bleak dreariness, this was a really satisfying and enjoyable evening: funny and poignant, engaging and intelligent- a thorough success!

Written by August Strindberg
In a new English version by Gregory Motton
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole

With: Bo Poroj, Katherine Tozer, Sally Edwards, Nicholas Shaw, Frances Thorburn, Edward Peel
Design: Michael Taylor
Lighting: Mark Doubleday
Sound: Fergus O'Hare
Running time: Two hours 10 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 8237 1111
Booking to 23rd April 2005 in London and then at the Lichfield Garrick
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 1st April 2005 performance at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London W6 (Tube: Hammersmith)
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