The Collector – Review

Daniel Portman & Lily Loveless in The Collector. Images Scott Rylander.
Daniel Portman & Lily Loveless in The Collector. Images Scott Rylander.

Life-changing lottery wins have been in the news this week. One Welsh family, after scooping £61m, plan to splash out on a new car port – for the new Aston Martin – and an electronic toothbrush.

Mark Healy’s disturbing adaptation of John Fowles’ The Collector, which opened last night at London’s The Vaults theatre, sees former Job Centre worker, butterfly collector, and now lottery millionaire, Frederick Clegg, going to elaborate lengths to fulfil his fantasies.

The stalker has in his sights posh art student, Miranda Grey, and he plans 50 Shades of weirdness by kidnapping her and holding her in the cellar of his newly acquired country pile.

Daniel Portman and Lily Loveless in The Collector (c) Scott Rylander (4)

The Vaults, a dark and gloomy performance space hidden underneath Waterloo’s train tracks, couldn’t be a better venue for this gripping psychological thriller about mind-games, obsession and infatuation, that stars Game of Thrones actor Daniel Portman and Lily Loveless (from Skins).

For most of this 140-minute, claustrophobic, cat-and-mouse drama, we see the sad, pathetic attempts of Clegg to convince his house guest that she is the love of his life. He can’t understand, when he does so much for her, is so accommodating and generous, that she doesn’t love him back.

Confined to the cellar, with only a once-a-week visit to the bathroom upstairs, the prisoner is the one who is manipulating, demanding and in control. Her kidnapper is so enamoured that he would do anything for her – except set her free.

The Collector builds to a harrowing and chilling climax but it’s a shame it takes so long to get there. Director Joe Hufton could easily cut 30 minutes out of the occasionally sluggish first act to rack up the tension. And what should be an edge-of-your seat last scene turns out to be a red herring.

The denouement, when it comes, is almost a disappointment save Clegg’s final monologue which will send a shiver down your spine.

Daniel Portman and Lily Loveless in The Collector (c) Scott Rylander (6)

But what doesn’t disappoint is Portman’s intense and profoundly unnerving portrayal of Clegg. There’s an explosion of violence, during a watershed moment, from Grey’s mild-mannered host and the audience finally realise how dangerous he really is.

This loner is outwardly inadequate and pitiful, with low self-esteem and confidence, timid and unable to make friends or attract girls. Clegg is a compendium of everything we know and read in the national press, about serial killers and the warped men who lock girls in makeshift dungeons, sometimes for years.

He objectifies his victim. She’s his ultimate dreamgirl, the person he has chosen to spend the rest of his life with. But the problem with fantasy is that it’s unattainable, no matter how much money you have.

“You can’t kidnap someone just to get to know them!” she protests.

The reality is that after just a few days captivity Grey has turned into a nag. They’re bickering, she’s ungrateful and surly, uncooperative and complaining. She was so much more attractive when he watched her from afar.

“I’m not like other people!” he screams during a particularly well-acted meltdown. Portman’s performance as this complex sociopath is mesmerising. He’s like a powder-keg with both Grey and the audience waiting for what must be the inevitable explosion. She fears that he will rape and kill her. Will he? How far can she push him? When will it happen? Will she ever get out?

The concept of dominant and controlling kidnapper and his vulnerable victim is turned on its head as Grey fights for her life but, as confident in the role as Lily Loveless is, she’s never entirely believable as a kidnap victim.

The Collector runs at The Vaults until August 28.

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