The stark, vault-like atmosphere of the Barron really came into its own last week as the setting of The Collector; in which loner and possible psychopath Frederick Clegg (Peter Stanley) kidnaps the precocious Miranda Grey (Cara Mahoney) and imprisons her in his cellar.
I was concerned initially that director Katherine Weight would go down the route of making Clegg attractive or even sexually appealing to the audience, therefore playing into psychological sinkholes such as female abduction fetishes and fantasies. I was relieved that their unconventional relationship wasn’t given the Hollywood glow and made acceptably romantic. Thank God. Instead, Stanley’s Clegg was undeniably creepy, but also socially awkward and not remotely suave.
Clegg doesn’t want a ransom for Miranda, nor to sexually assault or physically harm her. For the majority of the play it is still not quite clear what he wants. Acting as a foil to Clegg is the artistic, seductive and innovative Miranda – who is trying to find solutions firstly to escape from, then endure her captivity. These mind games disturb Clegg, who can feel his shaky grip on the situation waning; the constant power reversals throughout the play command the audience’s attention throughout, these subtle shifts in status are deftly managed by Stanley and Mahoney.
The action is also, undoubtedly, a commentary on class – despite Miranda’s claims that her imprisonment hinges on morality, not society. ‘I’ve not had your advantages growing up’ he implores, as an excuse for his actions. ‘When you’ve had nothing all your life, when you get the chance you take all you can grasp – including, apparently, women. However, Mahoney is far from your archetypal poor little rich girl, her entrance to Slade Art School was on a scholarship, and her first encounter with Clegg in a job centre reveals that her life is far more mundane than Clegg has fantasized. She snaps at Clegg to ‘Stop thinking about class!’ who replies sulkily, ‘That’s like a rich person telling a poor person to stop thinking about money.’
As well as wealth and class, sexual politics also enter into the mix. Clegg lacks Miranda’s cultured, liberal upbringing, and the effects are shown in his extreme social ineptitude and lack of charisma, but also a squeamish disgust and fear about sex. He is horrified at her implied relationship with a much older Art tutor, and any exhibition of sexuality shown by Miranda both repulses and terrifies him. Once Miranda has ‘proven’ she is not as not as pure as Clegg’s warped imaginations of his idea of the ‘perfect woman’, his esteem for her vanishes.
Both Stanley and Mahoney made impressive attempts to truly inhabit their characters; Stanley’s awkward mannerisms and perfectly pitched pedantry, and Mahoney’s sheer versatility from terrified victim to temptress, were impressive. Despite the slightly clunky scene changes and curtain manoeuvring which cost the play some pace, the electricity between the pair and genuine sense of menace meant The Collector was a truly compelling piece of theatre.