Theatre 2: More than just the Beart necessities

Jealousy was to Strindberg what daffodils were to Wordsworth: his paranoid relationship with Siri von Essen inspired the events of Playing With Fire (1892), a one-acter whose central menage-a-trois of characters were so blatantly and libellously based on the playwright's former friends that it wasn't performed in his native Sweden until 1907. Luc Bondy's sensitive and surprising French-language revival made its only British appearance last week at the Nottingham Playhouse, with film star, anti- Le Pen activist and nude harmonica player Emmanuelle Beart heading a uniformly strong cast.

The first big tick is for Marie-Louise Bischofberger's French version of the text. Not only did this purge the play of the awkward Edwardianisms that sometimes cripple English translations of Strindberg, but it saved its lead the embarrassment of English-language acting: anyone who puzzled over her bizarrely-inflected performance in Mission: Impossible will know what I mean.

In this country, Strindberg is usually staged as goggle-eyed Expressionism: yelling, corsetry, goatee beards, men who look like Kierkegaard and women who look like Mrs Danvers. Bondy has broken this mould, coaxing fresh-minted performances from his cast and checking any tendency towards sturm und drang with a delicate, sensual naturalism. As for Emmanuelle Beart, being the most beautiful woman in Europe does neither her nor the box-office any harm. Her performance as the troubled Kerstin has a rare, easy spontaneity: when she eats a strawberry, kicks a suitcase, or slaps her husband, it barely seems as if she's been directed to do so. Laurent Grevill is all dry lassitude as her loveless husband, Knut, and Thierry Fortineau slow-burns with lechery as Kerstin's lover Axel (a part widely considered to be the author's self-portrait). And when Axel and Kerstin finally get their hands on each other, there's a monstrous quality to their embrace: it's only the fact that an old relative walks in on them that seems to prevent this becoming potentially lethal physical contact.

In concert with Bondy's unhysterical approach to the text, designer Richard Peduzzi has rejected the asylum monochromes customary to Strindberg productions, taking his aesthetic cue from Edward Hopper rather than Edvard Munch: his set has the haunting plainness of a Hopper homestead, its white planks and agoraphobic spaces lending perfect support to Dominique Brugiere's mournful lighting. With the play's psychotic impulses masked beneath a skin of sunlit gentility, this is Strindberg without melodramatic tears: like its characters, the production hides its nasty heart in summer colours, and is more powerful for it.

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