Review: From the mundane to the poetic in Porphyria

Suffocating domesticity turns into something altogether more macabre in Porphyria, a new play written by emerging talent Craig Wilmann and performed by members of Nottingham University’s New Theatre.

Robert Browning’s 1836 poem Porphyria’s Lover forms the basis of this gripping psychological drama which previewed at the university on Wednesday ahead its run at next month’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The play opens with Reginald Blake and his wife, who incidentally has no name, squabbling over a game of Scrabble. It is a petty argument but one that belies deeper problems in their relationship. Despite this, Reginald assures the audience that he would never be unfaithful to his wife – except that is in his dreams when he dances with a beautiful blonde-haired woman.

But Reginald was not expecting this woman to emerge from his fantasies and be sitting at the breakfast table in the form of his son’s au pair.

What follows is a darkly comic and surreal tale of infidelity, madness and murder. The play moves deftly from the mundane to poetic, perhaps seen most poignantly in Reginald’s estrangement from his son Nicholas. We see love at its most selfish and destructive and by using a range of neat dramatic devices – such as the two women speaking over the top of each other – the distinction between past and present breaks down. There is also a sense in which dreams and reality become indistinguishable, trapping our protagonist in his own perpetual torment.

The three cast members, Nick Jeffrey (Reginald), Liz Stevens (Wife) and Genevieve Cunnell (Dream Woman) played their parts brilliantly. Jeffrey was wholly believable in his role of the beleaguered everyman. He comes across as wide-eyed and innocent, almost child-like, but at the same time, he is also obsessive, selfish and menacing. Meanwhile, the fact that the two women are not given names does not detract from the complexity of their characters and the rich emotions they convey.

New Theatre will be representing the university and the city of Nottingham at this year’s Fringe – it thoroughly deserves to be a success. You can see Porphyria at Zoo Southside, 117 Nicolson Street, Edinburgh between 6th and 20th August. For details click here.

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