The Vaults 2 – 28 August. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Mark Healy’s adaptation of John Fowles’ novel is, like it’s protagonists, fascinating and frustrating.
Lottery winner and butterfly collector Frederick Clegg finally has the money to get to know Miranda Grey. Unfortunately, Clegg’s idea of “get to know” involves secret filming, a van, chloroform and a gloomy cellar.
The Vaults is an ideal setting for this play, entering the dark tunnels under Waterloo and walking into the cellar set, draped with plastic sheeting and filled with piles of furniture and bulk packs of water and loo rolls, the claustrophobia sets in quickly.
This is all explained to us by Clegg in a series of self-justifying monologues, constantly stressing that there are two sides to every story. Daniel Portman gives Clegg a bumbling, almost innocent persona in the initial stages of the play. But his fingers are never still, hinting at the nervous energy and effort taken to appear “normal”. He is unable to touch Miranda, and backs away from her like a nervous puppy. He seems like a boy who doesn’t know what to do with his prize now he has it. Miranda (Lily Loveless) knows exactly what he wants, however, expecting to be raped at any moment, until she realises that she can take control of the situation. Clegg will give her anything she wants, except her freedom. They even negotiate the length of her captivity. There are some funny scenes where Miranda tours the house, criticising the décor and trying to educate Clegg. The class differences between the characters, rooted in the 1960s novel, still ring true unfortunately, with Clegg’s chip on his shoulder about education and money sounding like excuses used by Jeremy Kyle’s guests and Miranda’s sense of entitlement being very recognisable.
At first we only hear Clegg’s side of the story through Portman’s monologues, until he gives Miranda a writing pad, and she starts a diary, delivering monologues which show her fear and determination to survive. This helps make Miranda more human, as the character does begin to get annoying in the first act. You know this isn’t going to end well, but keep rooting for feisty Miranda to outwit Clegg, hoping she doesn’t push him too far. The monotony of life in the cellar, and Miranda’s rebellious efforts are the problem here. The play is just too long. Even with these two talented actors, the first act has sections that drag and director Joe Hufton should have cut.
When the power dynamics shift suddenly and violently, Portman turns on the menace brilliantly. All shades of Podrick disappear, and we see the frightening psycho beneath the prissy exterior before he manages to gain control again. But the possibility of violence is ever present after that moment, changing the power balance and allowing the actors to add even more nuances to their beautifully judged performances. Loveless is outstanding as Miranda – manipulating Clegg with calculating wit but always reminding the audience of her underlying panic and fear through constant movement and gut wrenching facial expressions.
The play ends as it begins, with a monologue from Clegg, delivered with glimpses of the same wide eyed innocence, belying the plans he is making for his next specimen, and ending with a disdainful glance at the audience that produces goose bumps, and will haunt you. Let’s just say I avoided walking next to any vans on the way home.
It is overlong, and with some slightly stilted moments, but The Collector is a fascinating study of obsession with outstanding performances by Portman and Loveless. Well worth a look.