A two-person show is a tricky thing to pull off. Tricky is putting it lightly, really; without two incredibly strong actors driving the performance it would flop completely. This is especially true for a show like The Collector, in which an avid entomologist ‘collects’ a young woman and keeps her in his cellar (see Dominic Kimberlin’s behind-the-scenes article, An Evening with the Collector). Miranda, an innocent student at first glance, has deeper layers of self-obsession and carelessness; Frederick, the kidnapper (say no more) could sometimes appear sympathetic in his neurosis and self-doubt if only played well enough.
Fortunately in their casting, director Katherine Weight and producer Mathilde Johnsen hit the nail squarely on the head. Cara Mahoney played Miranda, capturing the multiplicity of her character beautifully. Miranda follows a fascinating arc, from the initial expected reaction of a recent kidnap victim through a series of ups and downs; empathising with her kidnapper, seeking to learn more about him, screaming and swearing at him, hurting him and attempting to escape, using her sexuality to try to control him and finally becoming desperate in her illness. It would have been easy to play this with a one-dimensional conception of the character, but Mahoney clearly understood her character well and her every action was considered and convincing.
Peter Stanley played Frederick Clegg, the lottery-winning entomologist who buys a house deep in the country, sends his family on a cruise to Australia and does up his cellar to accommodate his ‘guest’. At first Stanley’s quiet, hesitant Frederick had some audience members sympathising with him: though his actions were obviously horrific, his clearly crippling self-doubt and sense of alienation were something that many people could probably understand to some degree. As the play goes on, however, this sympathy begins to drop away. Following Miranda’s attempt at seduction, Frederick loses his respect for her and begins to treat her with the contempt and perversion one would more readily associate with a kidnapper. Failing to recognise the seriousness of her illness, he inadvertently causes her death but, within a few days, he begins planning a new start – a new kidnapping.
Stanley’s final monologue was delivered impeccably. His lengthy stares into the audience were genuinely unnerving, while the contrast with his opening monologue in which he is so much more naïve was startling. It felt like a grim kind of fascination to watch he and Mahoney interact.
The theatricality of the piece was very good; scene changes were smooth, blackouts were rarely prolonged and – even more striking for the Barron – the stage space was used effectively with a newly-rigged curtain neatly separating the two worlds of the cellar and ‘upstairs’. It was only a shame that the curtain would occasionally snag and was somewhat painful to watch being dragged notch by notch across the stage.
The production team should be proud both of themselves and their cast. I can say without much hesitation that this is one of the best productions I’ve seen in my time at St Andrews. Stanley’s final monologue, delivered as he walked out of the Barron and punctuated by the door slamming behind him before the audience burst into stunned applause, will stay with me for a long time.
Images by Kelly Diepenbrock