BBC Radio 3, 22 September 2013
Originally staged at the Belgrade
Theatre, Coventry, Joe Harmston's production was a no-holds barred exposť of the tensions lurking beneath an apparently idyllic
one level, the production showed how Laura (Katy Stephens) managed to break free of the shackles imposed on her in a patriarchal
society, and achieve her wish of being able to look after her daughter Bertha (Holly Earl).. The struggle was a difficult
one, involving several emotionally harrowing scenes with her husband The Captain (Joe Dixon); but she proved equal to the
task, her quiet, assertive tones contrasting starkly with The Captain's violent mood swings, alternating from extreme violent
to childlike whining. Despite her physical weakness, it was clear that she had mental control of him.
At another level, however, Harmston's
production showed that Laura's triumph was based on ignorance. The Captain was both a poet and a scientist, someone
who tried his best to discover what he perceived as the secrets of the universe. When he talked about his work with
The Doctor (Patrick Toomey), his voice throbbed with excitement; in his view at least, he was achieving something great.
Unfortunately his comments fell on deaf ears; both Laura and The Doctor concluded that he needed to be committed to a mental
institution. The distinction between "madness" and "sanity" is always difficult to determine; in this production it
was clear that The Captain was not being put away "for his own good" but rather because his views represented a threat to
the social status quo in which religion and superstition prevailed over science.
The last scenes of this production were
unbearably poignant, as the Captain returned to a childlike state. His voice became quiet, almost meek, as he willingly
allowed himself to be put into a strait-jacket by his old nurse Margaret (Barbara Young). Superficially this might seem
to prove the truth of Anna's point (maybe The Captain was mad); but Harmston's production suggested otherwise.
It rather seemed as if he preferred to inhabit a world of his own rather than engaging with the ignorant world
represented by his spouse.
Laurie Slade's version of the text pulled no punches, creating a fundamentally brutal environment in which
only the fittest survived. Whether they deserved to survive, however, is another matter: I, for one, felt particularly
aggrieved that Anna should have emerged "victorious."