THE COLLECTOR
Derby Playhouse/Edinburgh Royal Lyceum
Opened 2 October, 1998

Towards the end of the first act of The Collector, young sociopath Frederick Clegg attempts to woo his abductee Miranda by buying not only the books, music and even a drawing she has requested, but "a treat" which turns out to be a box of chocolates. I seemed to be the only person who spotted that they were Ferrero Rochers. It is a delightful minor touch that sums up Frederick: however rich he may have become (due, in Mark Healy's updated adaptation of John Fowles's 1963 novel, to a lottery win), his tastes labour even to be middlebrow, and he feels his social inadequacy keenly but lacks the awareness truly to correct his situation.

Fowles's story resonates more deeply now that stalking has become part of the fabric of modern neurosis. As Frederick points out angrily at one point, if more people had the resources a million pounds or more; a large deserted country house with tastefully decorated cellar then more people would do as he had done. Healy has crafted a fairly taut two-hander, in which much of the tension derives from the possibility that Miranda may actually be won over if she leaves off her escape attempts for long enough, although she ultimately shows more similarity to Pat Reid in Colditz than to Patty Hearst.

Mark Clements's direction never takes things into moral monochrome; he incorporates sporadic clips of video footage (supposedly shot by Frederick while obsessively following Miranda), and Steven Richardson's design makes maximum use of the visual and metaphorical possibilities of Frederick's hobby of butterfly collecting early on, he describes the great achievement of "collecting" Miranda as "like catching a Queen of Spain fritillary". Danielle Tilley rings all the requisite changes as Miranda, from frightened to angry to semi-acquiescent, although she is often just a touch too strident. Frederick poses a rather greater problem in dramatic terms: he must at once hold our attention as the engine of the action, and be plausibly banal to the point of dullness.

Clements and actor Mark Letheren give it their best shot, but fail to square the circle. Letheren's performance is nicely observed and detailed, blending a whining Estuary accent with the precise delivery of a would-be self-improver, but at times the notion flashed into my head that Miranda had been kidnapped and imprisoned by the unfunny bank clerk brother of Lee Evans. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, Fowles's world remained more real than those of most psychological thrillers.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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