The Blinding Light at Jermyn Street Theatre
Written by the playwright Howard Brenton, The Blinding Light is an exploration on the life of experimental Swedish playwright Johan August Strindberg. In the Jermyn Street Theatre’s intimate performance space soft antique music emanates from speakers as theatregoers become seated.
Strindberg (Jasper Britton) emerges on stage, with the chambermaid Lola (Laura Morgan) in the Hotel Orfila, Rue d’Assas, Paris, 1896. From the onset, the characters start quarrelling, a preview of what’s yet to come. She attempts to clean his hotel room, which has become the setting for his alchemic experiments in an attempt to discover gold. Fantastical as this seems, there is an element of plausibility as the real-life Strindberg experienced a radical change from a literary life to a scientific one, perhaps occurring due to an artistic block, amongst other societal challenges he faced at the time.
Brenton’s script is humorous and produces copious laughs from the audience. The sharp Wildean wit is particularly significant in the scenes between Strindberg and his wives, Siri and Frida.
Dealing with the fine line between fantasy and reality with deftness and an experimental vision provided by artistic director Tom Littler, Brenton’s play imitates the real life of Strindberg, who had experienced delusion and paranoia. These changes in his psyche are revealed with the use of Britton’s unsettling “other” voice, the lights and sound effects creating darker moods and atmosphere. Like his experiments in attempting to putrefy the elements, it seems his own self requires putrefaction, to reach a point where he can continue to write again.
Though a wordy script, Brenton adroitly utilises the principal techniques of Strindberg’s work, from the quick-witted use of language to the naturalistic setting that adds a distinct biographical touch. Furthermore, an interesting correlation between Brenton and Strindberg is the experimental themes the piece touches upon, such as homosexuality and the relationship between the genders, which Strindberg himself wrote on extensively.
Like his inspiration, Brenton decides to focus more on characterisation rather than plot, which works in the play’s favour as a detailed and personal reflection on the part of Strindberg’s life he referred to as “Inferno”.
Photo: Robert Workman
The Blinding Light is at Jermyn Street Theatre from 6th September until 14th October 2017. For further information or to book visit here.