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'
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
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.
ABERDEEN PRESS AND JOURNAL
24th June 1998
casts more magic with Faustian tale
Review by Catriona
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
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.