Enigmatic Variations

Thursday, 15 June, 2000

The story, set on a private island in the Norwegian Sea, concerns Abel Znorko, a Noble Prize-winning author who is now a recluse. He agrees to give a very rare interview to a journalist called Erik Larsen, concerning his latest book. However, the interview is fraught with problems as the journalist tries to get behind the truth of the book, which concerns two lovers. The journalist is convinced that the author has actually written about his own life. However, when attempting to get to the truth Znorko is abusive and sarcastic playing tricks and lying to the journalist. In time though as the interview becomes more intense the truth begins to flow from 'both' men!

Directed by Anthony Page, whose other West End work includes "Three Tall Women", "A Doll's House", "Sleep with Me", and "The Forest", this is an intriguing play that is full of twists and turns revealing surprise after surprise right up to the very end. A rarity nowadays, but I was totally taken a back by the outcome which I had not seen coming at all. It is this cleverly concealed outcome that rescued the play for although it only lasts a hour and a half, it was beginning to creak half way through as I found myself becoming bored. However, this boredom was short lived as the secrets began to be revealed.

Donald Sutherland, with a white beard and shabby hair certainly looks the part playing 'Abel Znorko', an eccentric author who has removed himself from ordinary life to a life of almost fantasy. His co-star John Rubinstein as 'Erik Larsen', performs adequately, but is totally outshone by Sutherland who commands the stage.

The play has received a mixed response from the popular press…. THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "It emerges as a play of solidly entertaining qualities, elevated by smoothly tuned performances from Donald Sutherland and John Rubinstein and spiced with more plot twists than Murder at the Vicarage." THE TIMES says it is an"ingenious, proposterous, often entertaining but finally damn silly play." TIME OUT says, "Director Anthony Page is the real magician to tease out every ounce of tension from an empty philosophical jest. A conventional thriller would be less pretentious and probably more engaging." THE EXPRESS says, "You'll surely warm to Mr Sutherland, a passionate misanthrope coming to painful grips with his delusions and lost romance." THE DAILY MAIL did not like the play saying, "Sometimes bad is not a big enough word, even if Donald Sutherland's involved. " The Mail goes on to say "The play operates on a basis merely of disclosing previously with-held, deadly uninteresting, information, which is fine if you are Henrik Ibsen, and which Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt patently is not." THE EVENING STANDARD was like-warm about the play headlining "An old star shines out amid a dull cloudscape". However, goes on to say the play is an "Energetic, finely-paced and sensitive production." THE STAGE says, "Anthony Page's direction could be sharper, but there is an atmospheric setting by Ming Cho Lee, which will possibly stay longer in the mind than the play."

"Enigmatic Variations", does have its dull moments but if you stick with it you will be rewarded! Plus you get the advantage of seeing a master actor at work in Sutherland, a very rare treat indeed.

(Darren Dalglish)

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