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Review: The Blinding Light, Jermyn Street Theatre

JST_Web_528x571_TBLSwedish playwright and poet August Strindberg (Jasper Britton) has locked himself away in a hotel room in Paris, turning his back on his writing career to become an alchemist and find philosopher's stone.

His work is disturbed first by a cleaning lady (Laura Morgan) and then his two wives Siri (Susannah Harker) and Frieda (Gala Gordon) - or is he? Strindberg has become paranoid, he hears voices and thinks there is something or 'they' are in the walls and are out to get him. The women act as a counterpoint to Strindberg, sanity versus a disturbed mind but through their interactions with the writer reveal pieces of his past and give a sense of the man he was before the 'inferno period'.

The stage setting is a sparsely furnished room with opulent painted walls - rich greens, blues and gold in a disordered splashes that perfectly represent Strindberg's state of mind and perhaps the colour of his personality and life. Jasper Britton, dishevelled and in paint-splashed under garments, is a sublime mix of rage, paranoia, determination, fear, lucidity and charm. The latter is important as a shade of the man he was before, a man who could not only attract young women but make them risk their place and position in society to be with him. His conversations with himself are particularly well articulated. 

It is the visits from the women where the play really flies. Yes they represent the voice of reason and have a manner that is satisfyingly non-nonsense compared to Strindberg's 'artistic temperament' but equally there are moments of tenderness and care that make these relationships believable. But what Howard Brenton's play also does is to examine the nature of fame or the need to be creatively a success, to be accepted.

The Blinding Light is play of insight, pain and humour, it is 90 minutes long and is at the Jermyn Street Theatre until October 14.