The first hour of The Collector – a theatrical adaptation of John Fowles’ 1963 debut novel – is dazzling. The staging is remarkable. To tackle the challenge of dramatising the novel the stage is separated into two spaces delineated by a chalk-traced circle. When Frederick Clegg (Andrew Holden), the eponymous butterfly collector, stands outside the circle, he acts as the narrator. “There are always two sides of a story,” he says, before slowly revealing to the audience how he let Miranda (Paula Weldon), the woman he once adored, die. When he enters the circle, he suddenly ceases to be the storyteller, and interacts with Miranda, the only other character of the play.
Another successful aspect of The Collector is the setting – and the build up of tension. At the start of the act, the whole stage is scattered by veiled furniture and objects When Frederick stops his introductory speech and crosses the circle to reveal the first of the furnishings, a bed, his gesture strikingly exposes a captive: a student he had been stalking for years and abducted after when winning at the lottery. Among these progressively discarded sheet-shrouds, the two characters quarrel at length about the conditions of Miranda’s captivity and delusions of love. Clegg and Miranda disagree on everything: he likes photography and she likes drawing; she embodies life and accuses him of living a kind of staleness surrounded only by objects. She boldly mocks his taste and his language and for a while, the spectator forgets that she is at the mercy of Clegg.
Unfortunately, after the intermission, The Collector begins to feel noticeably lengthy. This second half is not as compelling as the first. While Paula Weldon and Andrew Holden remain excellent, the evolution of their respective characters is eerily botched. As he strengthens his grip on Miranda, Clegg displays a wider range of emotions than he does early on, from anger to playful cruelty. However, most of the mystery and interest surrounding his personality vanishes when his awkwardness is explained by merely displaying on stage his sexual impotency. It is at least an oversimplification and certainly a disappointment.
Another possible regret is that Mark Healy’s adaptation leaves little place to Miranda’s perspective on the horrifically abusive relationship she endures. Whereas the second part of the original novel consisted of the diary kept by the young girl during her thirty days of captivity, she rarely speaks by herself in the play and only very short – and therefore superficial-sounding – extracts of her journal are disclosed. The Collector, then, amounts to a play which sides with Clegg, who eventually considers Miranda a posh and ungrateful spoilt girl and abandons her to her fatal illness. In 2018, the least the audience can ask for is more empathy towards brave and suffering Miranda and a more relevant treatment of the two characters.