Saturday 3 November 2012

Fräulein Else - Serendipity Productions @ Drayton Arms Theatre

With this production, Serendipity bring Arthur Schnitzler's Fräulein Else to the London stage for the first time to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth.  Known for his frank depiction of sexuality, Fräulein Else is no exception - an erotically charged play fuelled by sexual politics.

The titular Fräulein is a young girl vacationing in a hotel located in the Italian Alps during the 1920s.  On receiving news that her father is on the verge of financial ruin, she faces a terrible choice to save her family involving a local art dealer (Herr Von Dorsday) whose feelings for Else are dangerously seductive.

Who really holds the power?  Money is power and in this patriarchal society the rich men dominate, only emphasised by a young girl giving herself up.  However, being a strong modern woman, Else seizes control by foiling Herr Von Dorsday's plan.  Director Anna Ostergren claims the play is still relevant to modern society "because it addresses decisions and choices that some women unfortunately still face in this day and age".  Yet does Else really hold power in the end?  Death is the only answer, adding a tragic spin to the narrative.  Ostergren may take a feminist viewpoint, but the sexual power play is ultimately left to the audience's interpretation.

The script (a co-adaptation from Ostergren and Foteini Georganta) at times felt a little stilted, though certainly in keeping with the period.  Cleverly, the script melds together dialogue and the inner monologue of Else, the protagonist.  At times the difference between the two was unclear, with frequent asides to the audience sometimes getting lost in speech.  However, this device provided an aspect of psychological intrigue, allowing access to Else's inner turmoil as she toys with sexual self-awareness whilst deriding herself for being a slut.

As you'd expect, the central role of Else is paramount to the play.  Sheena May offered a well-played, poised performance that captivated the audience throughout.  Thomas Thoroe's Von Dorsday was suitably sleazy, but lacked a sinister edge - that said, the central scene featuring the two characters was electric.  The other characters remained on the fringes - literally, with Ostegren's staging in the round, encroaching on Else's space and threatening her control.  As a nice touch to the set, empty picture frames were hung in suspense, with the dual purpose of creating a sense of space within the set like an invisible wall, whilst also framing the drama.  Men may hold the cash, but women have beauty as their secret weapon.  Or is Else just another art object for Von Dorsday to deal, the subject of his and the audience's gaze?


Watch: Fräulein Else runs from October 30th - November 24th.

Photos courtesy of Serendipity Productions ©IM studio