Robert Tanitch reviews The Blinding Light at Jermyn Street Theatre, London SWI
Tom Littler is the new artistic director of the Jermyn Street Theatre which from now on will be a full-scale producing house, creating eight to ten productions a year.
His opening production is a play about August Strindberg and his three wives by Howard Brenton. A strong cast is headed by Jasper Britton as Strindberg.
The author of Miss Julie and The Father is in Paris in 1896 having a mental and spiritual crisis. He is staying in a hotel and living in poverty and squalor. He has given up playwriting in order to practice alchemy.
Strindberg is obsessed with alchemy and the occult. He has a persecution mania and is talking to the wall.
In his alcoholic poisoned imagination he is visited by his demons: Lola, a chambermaid, Siri von Essen, his first wife, and Frida Uhl, his second wife.
Waspish Siri (Susannah Harker), the Swedish-Finnish noblewoman, the mother of his children (whom she will not let him see), wants him to come back to his native Stockholm so that he and she can continue their theatre careers. Siri had created Miss Julie.
Beautiful Frida (Gala Gordon), who advocates free love and free will, has just had a fling with Frank Wedekind, author of La Ronde, and is bearing his child. She wants Strindberg to come back to Berlin with her.
The chambermaid (Laura Morgan) morphs into his future third wife, Harriet Bosse. The three women want him declared insane and committed to an asylum. They put him in a straightjacket, a fate suffered by the Captain in The Father who is certified mad.
Strindberg would later dramatise and exaggerate his breakdown and turn it into Inferno, a fictional rather than an autobiographical novel.
His plays took a completely new and fantastical direction. He went on to write To Damascus, A Dream Play and Ghost Sonata. The last two would have been perfect to run in tandem with The Blinding Light.
Tom Littler will be directing Strindberg’s Miss Julie in November in an adaptation by Howard Brenton.