Strindberg and the Zuni Curse ; This `Non-Woman' Saw Women as Mad, Bad and Dangerous. So Why, Asks Paul Taylor, Do Modern Directors Revive His Work?

Article excerpt

Shortly before Christmas, I received a strange and unnerving communication from California. Consisting of a single sheet with no covering letter, it had been word-processed by the soi-disant Daughters of Eve, a misogyny-monitoring sorority from U CLA. This is the outfit that researches the lives of, and then puts on trial, those men (or, rather, those "remorse-free and humour-free non- women" as the sheet magnanimously calls them) whom it considers have done "fatal damage" to members of the female sex.

In 1992, the Daughters laid the Zuni curse on John Osborne; they're to try Ted Hughes later this year; and on the circular I received they were laying out the charges against Harold Pinter who will be hauled into the dock (in absentia, naturally) "in thefirst quarter of 1995". Perhaps it was the connection with Osborne, who described himself as August Strindberg's "man in England" that set me thinking about how, if the indictment of Pinter can be posted in a smallish envelope, the Daughters of Eve would need Pickfords to deliver the case against Sweden's greatest author (1849-1912).

The embittered survivor of three troubled, failed marriages, who dragged his first wife, Siri, through the dirt by relaying his virulently biased view of their relationship in stories and plays, this particular "non woman" was also a vociferous opponent of the women's rights movement. That comes across fairly unambiguously in this passage from one of the versions of his autobiographical novel, A Madman's Defence: "I want to exhort the lawmakers to carefully consider the consequences of granting civic rights to semi-apes, inferior creatures, sick children, sick and insane 13 times a year at the time of menstruation, completely out of their minds during pregnancy and irresponsible during the rest of their life, unconscious criminals, criminal, instinctively malicious animals who do not even know that that is what they are."

It's characteristic that Strindberg is one of the few male dramatists whose anxieties about penis-size has led him to set down for posterity his own alleged vital statistics (16cm by 4cm, since you're asking) and if there's an image from his plays which seems to encapsulate his inflamed view of the relations between the sexes, it's the spectacle of the Captain at the end of The Father, wheedled into a straitjacket by the emasculating feminine guile that's trained to exploit a man's condition ed need fora mother- substitute.

We live in politically correct times, so it's a tribute to the power of Strindberg's vision that the works of this least pc of dramatists are so frequently revived. What that power consists in, and why it can override objections, are opportune questions given that London is just about to experience an ad hoc mini-festival of Strindberg.

At the Almeida, the Swedish director Peter Stormare is mounting The Dance of Death, which makes you privy to the lacerating mutual hatred of an artillery captain and his former actress wife as they approach the silver jubilee of their deathly symbiosis. Written in the same month as The Dance but almost schizophrenically dissimilar in its message of redemptive Christian hope, Easter is revived by Katie Mitchell for the Royal Shakespeare Company in February. This last play focuses on a family anxiously awaiting the arrival of a creditor, whereas Creditors, revived in the same month by Fusion Theatre Company at the Gate, focuses on debts of a marital kind in a literally mesmeric drama of a man's revenge on his former wife and her current husband. Meanwhile, later this week, Sweden's Marionetteatern offers a puppet version of The Ghost Sonata as part of the London International Festival of Mime.

Gemma Jones, who takes on the role of the wife in Dance of Death, argues that the misogynist label is over-applied to Strindberg. …