As soon as the young doctor and his wife start to recount fantasies that they have kept hidden we know that they – and we – are in for a bumpy ride. The edges of nightmare, obsession, jealousy and sexual cruelty are all explored in a dreamscape that takes both husband and wife on an inner journey that, once begun, will never quite end. Their attempts to unravel their inner selves will doom them to remain together in imperfect harmony.
This 1925 story by Arthur Schnitzler seems to continue where La Ronde left off. Our perversities and innermost desires come round full circle to haunt us, and self-knowledge gives us little joy. It was adapted for the big screen in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and is here adapted and directed by Anna Ledwich.
Her production is compelling - beautifully lit by Matt Haskins, brilliantly designed by Helen Goddard and with a subtle, insinuating sound design by Adrienne Quartly – and ought to carry all before it. But in the attempt to draw us into its vortex of flawed humanity it is sometimes achingly slow. Each word, each gesture, each glance, is expertly choreographed, but given so much dramatic weight that one longs for a little more pace or lightness of touch to propel the narrative.
This reservation aside, the acting is first rate, with Leah Muller and Rebecca Scroggs giving strikingly resonant performances as the doctor’s wife, Albertine, and a bereaved patient, Marianne. They also excel as the proprietor of a costume shop and a prostitute, respectively. Jon Foster is nicely sinister as a pianist down on his luck and a pathologist, and Luke Neal as Fridolin is every inch the upright family doctor, but doesn’t quite find the level of self-inflicted terror as his personal underworld threatens to drive him to the brink of madness. A rich, if slightly ponderous, evening.