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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Easter
Riverside Studios and tour, Spring 2005

What a warm, healthy and health-giving play this is! And how particularly surprising that is in a play by August Strindberg, generally known either for his impenetrably symbolic plays or his bitterly cynical ones.

The Oxford Stage Company is to be celebrated and thanked for finding this rarely-performed play and for presenting it with such respect and understanding that all its virtues come through so movingly.

A family is living under the weight of multiple burdens - father is in jail for embezzlement, sister is in a mental institution, mother is simply in denial, father's chief victim is hovering ready to seize their last stick of furniture, and brother is cracking under the strain.

And then, in the course of the days leading up to Easter, and through a string of unlikely but believable twists, almost all of it gets better.

In less sensitive hands this material could have turned out embarrassingly or comically soppy. But Strindberg not only makes you believe it, he makes you feel the redemptive power of the holy season at work.

The idea that suffering is something one has to go through on the way to redemption comes alive, as do the insights that the most corrupt people are as capable of moments of kindness as the most kind are capable of succumbing to their weaknesses.

You may very well surprise yourself by the degree to which you are moved by ideas that sound like cliches. But do not resist that emotional response - it is the sort of magical experience that comes far too rarely in the theatre.

All praise to director Dominic Dromgoole for having the courage to trust and respect the play's power, and for guiding his cast to such lovely and convincing performances. Special applause to Bo Poraj as the son so frozen by pain, to Katherine Tozer as the fiancee who can only support him through silent patience, and to Frances Thorburn as the sister who finds her way back to mental and spiritual health.

There are perhaps a small handful of plays in the world repertoire - Shakespeare's As You Like It, for example - that are so healthy and soul-cleansing that you come out of them better off than when you went in. This beautiful production makes it clear that Strindberg's Easter is one of them.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Easter - Riverside 2005