Theatre: Fraulein Else

These days there must be few well-to-do women holidaying in Italy who are forced to consider selling their bodies between tennis and dinner, but for Fräulein Else this is as much a part of her reality as piano recitals.

Director/ designer Anna Ostergren and Foteini Georganta’s adaptation of Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler’s 1920s novella captures the self-obsession of a heroine who is clearly a product of a world where women are only as valuable as their looks. While Else’s father is accumulating debts, it’s left to his daughter to solicit the affections of the affluent Herr Von Dorsday – a “disgusting man,” played by a snake-like Thomas Thoroe – in order to pay them off.

Sheena May, as Else, brings some welcome variations of tone to dialogue filled with self-analysis and angst, but it’s very difficult to like a character that spends only slightly less time gazing at her navel than her face. The rest of the cast mimic the clipped accents of the period, but struggle to bring out the people hiding behind them. Ostergren’s immersive set design makes imaginative use of the recently reopened space at the Drayton Arms, but as the action ping-pongs across the room it’s sometimes difficult to see what’s happening. Else’s plans to spectacularly subvert Von Dorsday’s demands end up disappointingly chaste, but are less depressing than the other options she’s given – a bottle of pills and a window to jump out of.

Drayton Arms, London. Until 24 November

Written for The Stage

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