This sharp 1888 autobiographical play explores the short tragic life of Swedish author Victoria Benedictsson. The playwright, who committed suicide soon after writing Enchantment, splits her own depressive character between two women Erna (Niamh Cusack) and Louise (Nancy Carroll). Both are irreparably damaged by devastating relationships with Gustave Allende (Zubin Varla), a monstrous manipulating brute masquerading as a suave, sexually riveting painter/sculptor working in Paris.
Carroll is very convincing as the loving but troubled Louse, who is fragile but capable of anger and racked by sexual desire. The Cottesloe in the round is such an intimate setting that at times it’s like watching a TV close-up. Carroll’s face work is outstanding. So is Cusack’s as the talented painter, fraught with brittle bitterness. Varla is appropriately arresting with his emotionally distant smiles and coldly rational attitude to women as possessions to be picked up and discarded without attachment and, almost worse, without dissembling.
Fine supporting performance come from, among others, Judith Coke as an entertaining Lady Bracknell type, Avril Elgar as the money-obsessed concierge and Marlene Sidaway as the loving but forthright family servant back home in Sweden. Patrick Drury is a joy to watch as Louise’s rejected suitor. In one short scene he makes the audience understand that he has every virtue which Allende lacks - except sexual charisma
This dark, quite disturbing, feminist play, in Clare Bayley’s compelling reworking, poses plenty of provocative and still-topical questions about sexual politics, dual standards and the role of women. It makes good theatre and David Shrubsole’s music, impeccably played live by a cello, harp and flute trio wearing late 19th century black dresses, amplifies the brooding atmosphere.