Spitting Image writer Henry Naylor's Edinburgh follow up to his 2014 Fringe First-winning The Collector is both historical drama and hotly topical. Switching between the Victorian era and the modern day, this two-hander traces the echoes between a bright Victorian woman, Tillie, caught in the misogynistic machine of the British Empire and a disaffected schoolgirl, Samira, who also heads East – to find purpose in Jihad.
Naylor (also co-directing with Emma Butler) connects gender and religious discrimination over 175 years, as societies in two different time periods judge and restrict the two women based on deep-seated and overlapping cultural prejudices. Inequality—hierachical or media-inflamed—is hard-wired into the worlds they are seeking to escape. But they quickly learn that freedom is illusory.
Flicking between the then and now, the two women passing each other on stage, this impassioned play reminds us again about the depressing circularity of history. The seeds sown in countries like Afghanistan by the cruelty and exploitation of the British Empire will grow into a conflict that—sensationalised by the press and bereft of context—will drive Samira into a situation, and a marriage, as brutally repressive as Tillie's.
Felicity Houlbrooke and Filipa Bragança give strong, committed performances as Tillie and Samira. But the play, in spite of some powerful moments, suffers theatrically from the intensifying insistence with which Naylor highlights their parallels. The echoes turn into shouts as the analogies become increasingly heavyhanded, and complex reality chafes against metaphor.