Review: The Collector (The Vaults)

John Fowles’ 1963 novel has had its wings clipped in this adaptation by Mark Healy

John Fowles' 1963 novel still has the power to unsettle. A man stalks, and eventually abducts, a pretty, young girl, keeping her locked in his basement for his own pleasure. Sound familiar? Unfortunately we have seen many famous stories like these played out in the news, and knowing the novel has been an influence in real cases makes it even more chilling. Yet what should have been a tense tale of obsession and desire, here fizzles into only a mildly alarming evening.

Mark Healy's adaptation falls a little flat. Healy scraps the format of the book which flits between the viewpoint of the captor and captive and thereby sacrifices the dual narrative and loses the complexity of characters. Set in a timeless era in a remote country cottage, the lack of era is also confusing. In today's CCTV state, police would have surely been able to track the last movements of art student Miranda Grey, up until she was chloroformed by butterfly collector Frederick Clegg. It also makes Clegg's obsession with class between him and Grey a little hard to understand; whilst it may have been a big issue in the '60s, it doesn't seem as relevant now.

Joe Hufton's two-hour production ends up losing tension and pace. As days turn into weeks in the dank basement, there should be an underlying atmosphere of unease, maybe even signs of Stockholm syndrome. Yet it never quite emerges, I was left yearning for more and an anti-climatic ending didn't help.

Game of Thrones star Daniel Portman and Skins actress Lily Loveless do their best with the script and work hard to keep the show moving forward. Both performers were pleasant to watch but perhaps that is the crux of the problem. As stalker Frederick Clegg, Portman is never quite commanding enough, never unpredictable, there was no dark flicker as to what he may have been capable of. As a sexually repressed, obsessive man, he should have been quite a terrifying presence, 'collecting' his girl like he collects his butterflies (no, we didn't miss the metaphor).

Fowles' novel has had its wings clipped and in this adaptation, it doesn't quite translate well onto stage. Whilst the story did keep me interested to the end, this is an adaptation that should remain in the drawer with the other specimens.

The Collector runs at The Vaults until 28 August.