Review for The Collector; Friday 9th November 2018; Hope Street Theatre
In an old Masonic Hall at the top end of Liverpool city centre, the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the war of Iraq – as well as a war of morality – is dragged kicking and screaming into the spotlight as The Collector rolls into town… And boy does it do such a sensitive subject justice.
The theatre space at Hope Street Theatre is a daunting room to fill. I’ve seen this space swallow large and extravagant productions whole. So to see the configuration of the audience seating surround a stage that is no bigger than that of a prison cell, I was immediately aware that this piece needed to bring it’s A-Game so as to not get lost in the vast and empty space surrounding it.
The set itself consists of no more than a raised level of concrete that immediately creates a stark and cold atmosphere, which gets even colder when you notice the spatters of blood dotted subtly across the floor. The lighting is cold to start and the atmosphere is filled with tension and a dangerous tinge. So to juxtapose that with an opening monologue filled with poetic verse and romantic imagery from the wonderful Jennifer Varda is nothing short of a master stroke.
The script itself was always going to be a firecracker, having won the prestigious Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival. But that is not to say that the actors and director had an easy time. Far from it in fact. The script is a very complex piece of work that is navigating an extremely hard-hitting subject area that focuses on morality and who the real enemy is in a warzone.
The story focuses on a character we never see, but learn a lot about: Nassir. A music-loving Iraqi who gets a job as an interpreter for the American Army running one of Iraq’s newly liberated prisons. The story is a timeline of events that follows the actions and the consequences of Nassir’s decisions, as told by the people who worked alongside, above him and of those who loved him. This different take on how to present a story about war and essentially make it a story-telling exercise via the use of (what is essentially) three narrators is a breath of fresh air, with the characterisation of each of these three characters, wonderfully executed.
I never thought I would say this. But I never thought that a play that focusses primarily on torture and interrogation could be so funny. Some of the scenes in the piece have you on the edge of your seat with shoulders high, tensing at the neck. When suddenly the tension is cut with a comedic knife that is timed extremely well and not once overused either – a deft touch by director: Ellie Hurt.
In terms of performances, the trio of actors all approach the piece with subtlety and prowess. Scripts about war can often lead to Gung-Ho, balls to the wall energy that is delivered at 100% throughout the entire time. Not here though. There is an understanding of the world and reality in which these characters find themselves in that means the acting is convincing and extremely well delivered.
My biggest criticism of the night comes from the accents used in the piece as opposed to the text. The script is clearly written by someone with a British vocabulary attempting to write for American characters. As a result there are some words and phrases that stick out and simply do not sound right in an American accent and thus suspends the believability to some extent. This can be rectified quite easily though so isn’t the biggest issue in the world and is more a critique of the script rather than something the company have done.
Jennifer Varda flies under the radar as a bright spark in an already raging fire with her interpretation of Zoya. Her approach and dedication to the role is clear and she brings life to a role that has the potential to be eclipsed by the other characters in the piece. Perhaps one downfall was sometimes her soft delivery and characterisation dangled on the edge of getting lost in the space at times.
Sergeant Foster, played by Kathryn McGuirk is spot on. Her interpretation of a new-age female interrogator in a world dominated by brutality and the male ego is expertly navigated and is a joy to watch. Her American accent is very well polished. However, it is the generic middle-class American accent that a lot of people run to when creating a character from the USA. A New England accent would have potentially given her character a little more depth of emotion in her delivery.
Which leaves us with the tour-de-force that is Reginald Edwards as Kasper, the Army officer left in control of Mazrat prison. His performance is nothing short of exceptional and there are parallels between the barnstorming performance Edwards delivers and the early Stephen Graham. His ability to switch the energy at the drop of a hat is seriously impressive and the climactic scene in which he plays two characters at near enough the same time is astonishing.
The Collector closes its doors tonight and I urge each and every one of you who reads this review to go along and watch this exceptionally professional performance.
Theatrevolt rating: 4/5 Stars