Philippa Lawford’s production of Blavatsky’s Tower exudes claustrophobia. Set on the 25th floor of bleak apartment block, we are presented with Hector Blavatsky (Alex Rugman), the once-visionary architect, and his three children. Now a blind old man, Blavastky has rejected the cruel outside world; only his eldest daughter Audrey (Madeleine Pollard) sets foot on the streets below, and only then as a reluctant bread winner. When a strange doctor enters their world, however, everything begins to change.
This production utilises the Pilch brilliantly to convey both the sense of literal confinement and psychological oppression. Lawford rejects the majority of the space the venue offers and contains the action of the play instead within a strip of stage. Pushed right up against the wall, the actors thus become like deer in headlights, frantically trying to assert themselves in the cell their father has created.
Indeed, Blavatsky’s presence is perhaps the most claustrophobic element of this production even before he enters the stage. Pathologically ‘devoted to suffering’ after the collapse of a utopian dream to build his perfect Trumpian tower, he tyrannises his children who in turn worship him to the point of insanity. ‘Dadda’, as they call him, has succeeded in projecting his perverse mentality onto them: ‘only those who live in the shadows,’ quips Audrey, ‘can truly appreciate the light’.
In many ways the piece is concerned with masculine pride. Blavatsky builds and designs his phallic tower in an attempt to construct his own ideal reality. His sense of personal failure is paralleled with that of Satan dejected from the heavens in Paradise Lost, his tower a Dantean inferno whose inhabitants experience a death-in-life. Constant allusions to these literary figures stand as a mirror to his hubristic delusions, his elitist neurosis and wounded masculinity.
In this twisted family, it is perhaps Roland (Marcus Knight-Adams) who has fared the worst. Terrified of the outside world, and the ‘crushed’ who inhabit it, his project to come up with a ‘Theory of the Universe’ is ever-collapsing and seems to move along a similar trajectory to the failed dreams of his father. Knight-Adams’ performance is compelling, moving with ease from heart-wrenching panic, to moments of simple hilarity. His high-powered characterisation works brilliantly against the quieter pain of the youngest child Ingrid (Louisa Iselin) and the proud pragmatism of Audrey. The dynamic between these three as they orbit their father is enthralling. John Livesey’s performance as the essentially well-meaning Doctor is equally considered and his relationship with Ingrid is particularly spellbinding.
This is a play which showcases human relationships at their best and worst. Contrasting moments of tenderness with ones so uncomfortable that all certain members of the audience could do was laugh, Blavatsky’s Tower is a complete triumph. Don’t miss it.