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David Scotland

Review: THE BLINDING LIGHT at Jermyn Street Theatre

The Blinding Light There is frequently added examination of the first production by a new Artistic Director of a venue, in search of an indication of what is to come. This is the dubious honour currently bestowed upon Tom Littler as he opens his first season as Artistic Director of the Jermyn Street Theatre. If The Blinding Light, a new play by Howard Brenton, is a statement of intent then Jermyn Street looks to be at the forefront of London fringe theatre for the foreseeable future thanks to a combination of interesting writing and compelling performances.

The Blinding Light is Brenton’s exploration of the 'Inferno crisis' of playwright August Strindberg. After revolutionising theatre with the realism of his plays The Father and Miss Julie, Strindberg abandoned playwriting and became obsessed with science and alchemy. In Brendon's imagined version of events, a mentally unstable Strindberg is holed up in a Parisian hotel room and interrupted in his experiments by visits from his ex-wives Siri Von Essen and Frida Uhl. They both attempt in their own way to bring August to his senses but with Strindberg’s equilibrium in question, it is unclear whether either woman is really there at all.

As August, Jasper Britton gives a superb performance. His portrayal of madness is honest and real, amusing and distressing. Littler has committed to achieving gender equality in his casting - at least 50% of the roles cast under him will be female - and although the central performance of The Blinding Light is male the other three roles are female. As the former lovers of Strindberg, Gala Gordon and Susannah Harker relish their exchanges with Britton and Laura Morgan is undeniably charming as Lola, Strindberg's chambermaid.

If there is criticism to be made it is that perhaps the play is a little too long. The verbal sparring between Strindberg and his wives drags just enough to make the audience conscious of the running time of 90 minutes with no interval. However, Littler’s direction does combat this. There is a constant energy to the production, often through movement but in stiller moments too, reminiscent of the imagined electrical pulses that plague August throughout the play.

Littler and Brenton obviously share a fascination for Strindberg and his work: they previously collaborated on a production of Strindberg’s Dances of Death and will again on a new version of Miss Julie later in this ‘Escape Season’. The audience need no such obsession to enjoy an exciting opening to what promises to be a memorable season of theatre.

The Blinding Light runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 14th October.