John Fowles’ classic novel The Collector is given a new breath of life in this adaption by Mark Healey. With the themes of class, mortality and obsession at the heart of this story, this dialogue between the captor and victim demonstrates the effects of power reversal and control.
Walking to the subterranean theatre at The Vaults adds to the isolation that both characters feel. The large auditorium which is filled with mismatched furniture creates the illusion that the audience is in Frederick’s house. Small details, such as that of a digital photo frame, with images of butterflies gives the impression of Fredrick’s vast collection.
Daniel Portman’s portrayal as the obsessive captor Frederick Clegg immediately captivates the audience. From the opening, he addresses the audience with a monologue as he claims he will give us a rare opportunity to hear his side of the story of “a series of coincidences” he repeats.
Seeing Portman’s physicality change during the course of the days and weeks of capture demonstrates how Fredrick’s fantasy is not going to plan. The tone of his voice as the play progresses gives members of the audience shivers. In fact the packed theatre gives an audible gasp in the intense fight scenes. This contrasts with the gentle laughter from the audience at the moments of dark humour, and when Miranda (Fredrick’s obsession and love interest who he kidnaps) mimics his words we chuckle nervously.
Lilly Loveless’ theatre debut as Miranda Grey, a privileged art student who Fredrick fantasies about, is magnetic. She is authentic in the role and her desperation to escape Frederick’s grasp is portrayed in a variety of engaging ways. Her constant change in tactics and tone of voice, from pretending to have appendicitis, to anger, to charm clearly indicates her quick thinking yet frustration. It is clear from the beginning Miranda is intelligent as she tries to manipulate Frederick’s love for her in order to set her free. Through Fredrick’s obsession, it noticeable how much of a pedestal she is on, and that there is more to this than meets the eye. It is Miranda who has drawn out Fredrick’s real motives which are always lurking underneath, or is he a victim of external forces and simply bad luck.
The set design by Max Dorey, enhances the idea of captivity as there are objects draped in white cloth and piles of boxed water and toilet paper stacked in the back. In addition to this, large dust sheets create the impression of the damp, stuffy environment Miranda is caged in. This also adds a feeling of claustrophobia for the audience as well as the cast.
The lighting by Matt Leventhall is very effective in the use of different styles of lamps at particular points in the play. The vintage and more recent lampstands, angle poise, bed side and overhead lights are subtly used to enhance the mood of the scene.
Though the book was written some time ago, the play feels very contemporary and extremely realistic due to the tight script, excellent direction and brilliant acting which leaves the audience feeling great empathy for these character. The Collector is a thriller that leaves the audience guessing about how much is based on fiction or sourced from testimonials.
References made to job centres, lottery wins and music from the 90 and 00’s keeps the piece fairly contemporary but it is the acting in itself that makes it feel based in real time. With only two actors, it could be difficult to keep an audience engaged but this cast has the audience with them at every turn. Indeed the slow build of tension adds menace and we leave the theatre slightly disturbed yet intrigued.
The Collector is playing at The Vaults Theatre until Sunday 28 August. For more information and tickets, see The Vaults website.