You can imagine August Strindberg playing Happy Families and thinking, what if we replace Mr & Mrs Bun the Baker with Adolphe and Laura the bipolar soldier and his abusive narcissistic wife.
This new translation of Strindberg’s 1887 masterpiece appeared at the Belgrade in 2012 and has already played on Radio 3. The intimacy of the Trafalgar Studios space makes it an intense ride. This is the very worst of marriages, where even the powerful sexual attraction between Adolphe and Laura has become a torture to them both. Adolphe is a soldier by profession but a free-thinker and a scientist by calling. He oversees a provincial military command in order to support not just Laura and their daughter but an extended family that includes her mother and his old nurse (a great performance from June Watson). The bitter but hyper-intelligent Laura has decided her only route to happiness lies in breaking her husband. She contrives situations that make him doubt his sanity, but she is pushing at an open door: Adolphe is on the edge before the play begins.
This is an acutely well-observed play. Strindberg’s text leaves it open as to whether Adolphe’s condition is purely psychological, fatally exacerbated by Laura’s schemes, or if there is an underlying physical cause. But the journey of Laura and Adolphe, superbly played by Emily Dobbs and Alex Ferns, is presented with ruthless precision.
Rating: Four Stars