Life&Style Editor Frankie Rhodes reviews 3Bugs’ latest production, an innovative adaptation of The Collector by John Fowles
It isn’t often that you’re lucky enough to be able to see your favourite book adapted into a play, let alone right on your doorstep. 3Bugs’ production of ‘The Entomologist’ at the Guild had high standards to meet, as I had previously adored the original novel by John Fowles, entitled ‘The Collector’.
The play studies the interactions between Ferdinand, a socially incompetent recluse, and Miranda, an enigmatic and highly intelligent art student. As a butterfly collector, Ferdinand is obsessed with capturing beautiful, winged creatures and displaying them, until one day this accumulation of beauty simply isn’t enough. He decides that he wants more. He decides to collect a woman.
This decision is sparked by Ferdinand winning the lottery, and using the money to buy a house with a hidden cellar, ideal for holding Miranda captive. He promises never to harm Miranda- she may have whatever she wants, and spend her time however she pleases. The one tiny catch? She must stay there always, as his perfect possession, the most beautiful of all his captured creatures.
This adaptation, written and directed by Richard House, opened with Miranda sitting painting in the foreground, whilst Ferdinand sat further back within a stylishly-decorated dining room, complete with glassware and a record player. In fact, the whole set would have looked perfectly normal if it wasn’t for the pin-board covered in newspaper clippings about the missing Miranda, and butterflies pinned up by their wings. The front section of the stage became Miranda’s cellar, consisting of simply a bed and a few books, indicating the suffocating nature of her mini-universe. This room was sectioned off with illuminated lights, creating the metaphorical sense of a prison, constantly visible and yet impossible to escape.
Whilst the book dedicates the first half of the narrative to Ferdinand’s perspective, before switching to Miranda, this adaptation cleverly interspersed the two perspectives, also combining the present action of the captivity, with previous moments in Miranda’s life. The opening section of the play explored her relationship with an elusive, older man, GP- who Jack Cowdery portrayed as brilliantly pretentious. Following her kidnap he re-appeared on stage as a kind of narrator, sarcastically informing the audience of society’s reaction. This added something extra to the original novel, which failed to explore the response of the outside world.
Consistently dominating the narrative, Will Smith’s Ferdinand was expertly awkward, stumbling over words to evoke the chaotic nature of his mind, yet also able to achieve moments of deliberate, malicious anger. His unexpected innocence even inspired a few laughs from the audience, but this did not take away from the character’s evil core, and particularly within his monologues, Ferdinand’s grotesquely destructive nature came through.
In addition to being the centre of Ferdinand’s universe, Sophie Stephens’ Miranda was the centre of the production, perfectly embodying one of my favourite characters in literature. One of the most impressive aspects of her performance was that she was able to portray the dreary desperation of being kept in captivity, without ever flat-lining. Not only was she heartbreakingly emotional, she was also witty, playful and argumentative. Even with extensive monologues to perform, Stephens never lost the audience’s full attention.
A combination of soliloquy-esque speeches, snatches of dialogue and overlapping lines kept the action dynamic, which is difficult to achieve in a play with only three actors. I particularly noted the use of music, with cheery soulful tracks such as ‘My Guy’ being played during Ferdinand’s most violent moments, creating a brilliant juxtaposition. The only part of the play that felt out of place was an added section of dialogue between GP and Ferdinand, as Ferdinand buys a painting created by the late Miranda. Whilst this explored an interesting plot line, presenting Ferdinand as the gloating murderer didn’t seem to quite suit his deeply troubled character.
The decision not to include an internal, combined with the location of the ‘Basement’ room of the Guild, made the whole performance intense, as if you were experiencing a real kidnap. I was incredibly moved and entertained by this play, regarding it as an unquestionably worthy adaptation of Fowles’ novel.