THE LIST (Edinburgh)
24th June 1998

The Aspern Papers
Touring * * * *

'You have a taste for decay', Juliana Bordereau (Sally Mortemore) tells Henry James (Graeme Rose) in a crucial early meeting of the two characters in Jonathan Holloway's adaptation of James' classic novella. Holloway, who also directs, reveals the decadence in a subtle and admirably understated manner in this Red Shift production. Instead of the usual and rather too easy Hieronymous Bosch/Derek Jarman images of outright degeneracy, the rotteness at the core of Rose's central character is displayed through his smooth manners and easy movement through the plays dilapidated Venetian locale. 'How wonderfully civil - it almost kills me', as Julianna remarks later of James' behaviour.
The play tells the story of James' quest for access to the missing papers of the long-dead poet of the title. These are held by his elderly former lover Julianna, who has spent many decades guarding them from critics such as the author. In order to access this scholarly Holy Grail, James talks his way into rooms at Julianna's house, in return for extortionate rent, to be paid in gold. The scholar's tactics become increasingly cynical as he emotionally exploits Tita (Beatrice Comins), Julianna's niece and companion, a woman wholly unfamiliar with the ways of the world. Choric commentary is added by James' friend Madelaine, whose cautionary words are ignored by James, much to his eventual cost.
The fact that Julianna is 150 years old, the idea of rent paid in gold and temporal tricks in the narrative indicate Holloway's mythic, fairy tale take on the story, something which may not please literary purists, but makes for very tense theatre. Although the early part of the play may require some editing, there is a great deal to be admired in four strong performances, a spare but eloquent design and an emotionally charged climax.
(Steve Cramer)













24th June 1998

Theatre company casts more magic with Faustian tale

Review by Catriona Phillips

THE Red Shift Theatre Company brought its magic back to Aberdeen's Lemon Tree Studio last night with an adaptation of Henry James' The Aspern Papers.
The strikingly imaginative company stunned Aberdeen last year with Victor Hugo's Les Miserables and it did not disappoint the audience with its new production.
Adapted and directed by Jonathan Holloway, the odd, dreamy Aspern Papers perfectly uses the mysterious wonderland of Venice in which decay dominates and the ages are compressed in the present.
The narrator's ruthless pursuit of poet Jeffrey Aspern's archive loses its rational anchor and becomes a Faustian tale in which personal gain dressed up as academic enquiry justifies emotional exploitation and an eventual bungled burglary.
Graeme Rose excels as Henry James in a superb cast which is flawless and impressively committed.
The stunningly evocative production plays again tonight and must not be missed.