It’s always interesting to see where Fringe shows end up after their stint in Edinburgh. Some shows disappear, while others re-emerge years later with renewed vigour and poise. The latter is the case with Henry Naylor’s play The Collector, which scooped a Scotsman Fringe First Award back in 2014. Now in partnership with Kathryn Barker Productions, the show has returned for a national tour.

The Collector is a play with a cast of three, set in Mazrat prison in occupied Iraq in 2003. We follow the interwoven stories of two soldiers, Foster and Kasprowicz (Olivia Beardsley and William Reay) and a young woman named Zoya (Anna Riding). They’re bound together by their relationship with a man named Nassir, who works as a prison translator for the Americans during their interrogations of Iraqi prisoners. In the play’s short running time of just over an hour, we watch as their stories come together to paint an image of a conflicted man in the dark hours of the early 2000s in the wake of 9/11.

All three performers carve out some very well-considered performances that ring true to Naylor’s text and give it the chance to soar. Each of them tap into the foreboding presence of the unseen Nassir, and gradually craft a dynamic, quietly authoritative play that grips the audience’s attention and doesn’t let go. What’s striking is the performers’ individual abilities to grasp their audiences and wrap them up in the play’s atmosphere, especially without the aid of any sound design. Their vocal energy carries us through their narratives with ease, and paint a vivid image of a world inspired by Naylor’s own visit to Bagram Airbase. Under the smooth direction of Michael Cabot, these performers prove to be quite an unstoppable force.

Andy Grange’s lighting design makes up for a lack of sound in the generation of atmosphere, and helps to contribute towards creating a powerful scenography that comfortably accommodates its audience. Slick changes in lighting states, accompanied by a range of coloured washes, perfectly complement the mood of each section of the characters’ monologues.

Despite only having three stools placed in a triangle in the intimate darkness of York Theatre Royal’s Studio space, The Collector is a real visual treat. Its sparseness and simplicity evoke the power of the audience’s imagination. Cabot’s clear intention to tap into this is reflected in his vision, and he leaves it to the audience to experience Naylor’s rich text through engaging with the powers of their own mind.

The Collector makes for a compelling hour of storytelling, driven by a powerful narrative and the strengths of three accomplished performers. Though the subject matter might not sound to your taste, The Collector is certainly worthy of your time and engagement, and is a well-considered piece of theatre that grips you from start to finish.

The Collector is playing at the York Theatre Royal until September 24, and then tours around the UK. 

Photo: Sheila Burnett