An eerie environment for a creepy play. An underground car-park, with fading and limited lights, casting shadows all around. This was the setting for the Artisan Collective’s “The Collector”, a stage re-imagining of John Fowles’ classic story of the same name. A highly intense play, it deals with complex issues that still resonate in today’s society, even 60 years after the book came out. With a cast of two, the play is a clear example of how novels can be translated into different mediums.
The story remains fairly true to the original story, courtesy of the skilful Kristina Brew. The story is one of a wealthy man, Frederick Clegg (Tristan Meecham), who is socially incapable of any form of relationship and a collector of butterflies. He becomes infatuated with a young arts student, Miranda Grey (Kristina Brew), kidnapping her and keeping her hostage for several weeks. During the course of her time, Miranda attempts to flee several times, attempts to seduce, plead with, and even kill him, all to no avail. In between various attempts of escape, she argues with her captor about philosophical and ethical problems, such as his drive to kill and collect things of beauty, such as butterflies. In the end, before she can make a further escape, she falls ill and dies, leaving Frederick bitter and confused about the entire ordeal.
The play is minimalistic, with only one prop and two performers. This minimalism, combined with the closeness of the audience to the action, makes the play even more intense and personal. The intensity is highlighted by the fact that the audience has to spend the duration of the play focussing purely on the dialogue and its content. The personal nature, aside from making the play even more intense, also makes the issues in the play far more real and close to the audience. The fact that the performers occasionally move behind the audience also create a sense that the audience was somehow involved and consumed by the performance and its dark material.
The play is performed in an underground car park in Fitzroy, which is a very unique set up. The darkness underground reflects perfectly the dark nature of the story. The darkness ensured that the performers and light technicians made every tiny spot of light count, from the pitch black with only voices, to the audience being blinded by car headlights, leaving the action to be performed by the silhouettes of the actors.
The car park setting also had a heavy impact on sound. The play was mostly devoid of soundtrack, with the occasional eerie music playing very softly in the background. However, there were very occasional spikes in volume, when Frederick screams and yells. These shouts are actually quite frightening, both due to the content and because of the tension build up. Due to the location of the performance, occasionally a car would pass overhead, creating some background noise. However, this rare interlude didn’t detract from the play. In fact, it added another level of involvement for the audience.
In regards to the philosophical and ethical elements of the play, things can get murky John Fowles intended the story to be a cautionary tale of the divisions in society, claiming that divisions need to “run through individuals, rather than between them”. However, there are other issues, such as his belief that the proliferation of wealth and power in society meant that certain individuals would be unable to intellectually comprehend their new found power and wealth. This opinion was still slightly in the play, as Clegg was unable to connect with those he considered inner-city snobs.
However, despite some of these philosophical issues, the play also highlights the problem of violence against women and misogyny. With the fairly dark content, it highlights some of the dark arguments behind some of the misogynistic elements in Western society. This can be highlighted by the fact that Clegg argues that everything he does makes perfect sense to him, and that he is being a paragon of gentlemanliness, where in reality he is a disturbed abductor. Another issue dealt with is society’s tendency to sympathise with the perpetrator, especially if the victim is a woman. For example, Frederick “only” kidnaps Miranda so that she’d talk to him, and that after a while she’d “understand” him and then choose to live with him. He rationalises that this is perfectly acceptable to the audience and Miranda, but it goes to show that he perceives women as objects to be collected, even stating that he views her as the pinnacle of his collection.
In conclusion, the performance was very good. The acting was superb, as was the writing. The play made excellent use of lighting and sound, especially considering the dark and isolating nature of the venue. The dark and sinister nature of the story and content were reflected in the environment, and brought to life by the actor and actress, under the direction of Ben Pfieffer. Whilst some of Fowles’ philosophy can be called into question, most aspects of the play were spectacular in a minimalist style. Although not for the faint of heart, and certainly not a light evening out, the Artisan Collective’s “The Collector” is certainly a fantastic performance.
‘The Collector’ runs from 24th July to 3rd August, 7.30pm, at Collingwood Underground Arts Park. Bookings can be made online via: www.trybooking.com.au, and at the door.