Monday, March 22, 2010


Sydney Theatre Company in association with Frantic Assembly present STOCKHOLM by Bryony Lavery at Wharf 1.

This is a co-production between the Sydney Theatre Company and an English company, Frantic Assembly. Frantic Assembly is a company that creates and explores physical theatre skills as part of the dramatic language of their productions. Steven Hoggett, one of the co-directors - choreographers of STOCKHOLM (the other being Scott Graham), was associate director of the National Theatre of Scotland's BLACK WATCH, which was part of the 2008 Sydney Festival. (Best remembered for an inventive physical transformation sequence.) STOCKHOLM was developed in close collaboration with Bryony Lavery (Her play FROZEN (2004) has been seen in Sydney) and Mr Hoggett and Graham. Along no doubt with the original actors. A development and exploration of text, dance, music and design extrapolated into this very interesting work.

The Frantic Assembly artistic team of the original 2008 production have transplanted their production for the Sydney Theatre Company, here, with two Australian actors, Socratis Otto and Leeanna Walsman. The original company were keen to bring this work to Sydney "but only if they and their designers, Laura Hopkins (Set - disappointing and drab in conception, especially as the play's location has been re-located to Sydney, this kitchen would not pass muster in the Sydney Real Estate demographics of this couple... unbelievable!) and Jennifer Irwin (Costume) and Andy Purves (Lighting), were part of the deal." This is the first international re-staging of the work.

STOCKHOLM concerns a young, trendy couple, Kali and Todd (ominous namesakes: Kali being the cult name of the Hindu goddess, Durga, goddess of death and destruction - her devotees being the notorious Thugees; and Todd which may mean, 'death' in German translation), who appear happily married, planning a holiday break in Stockholm. However, what becomes clear during the course of the play is the desperately unhappy mental state of one of the pair (or both) and the consequences. The title of the play has many levels of comprehensive metaphorical entry, but, principally, it is taken from the psychological phenomenon Stockholm syndrome, "where hostages express adulation or display positive feelings towards their captors despite the abuse or threats they have endured." Here the syndrome is shifted from the major scale of societal trauma (e.g. bank robberies) or war to the domestic, everyday, between a man and a woman, between a husband and a wife, held 'hostage' to each other. In this relationship between Kali and Todd, where "retro- jealousy" is an agreed forbidden subject, the subsequent fears, express themselves in behaviour of both physical and psychological abuses. Before, during and after the incidents.

This is a truly remarkable script. It is set in the present (the characters talk directly to us some of the time) but shifts to the past and even into the future, to reveal a layered and familiar(!!!) development of life relationships with consummate ease and clarity. Ms Lavery has the capacity to touch on dark and confronting matter and yet not overwhelm us with judgemental condemnation or anger. (No matter how disturbing, I agreed to stay with her.) Her ability to shift from the dark and light of human relationships and to use them as counterpoints for an audience's journey to experience, is deft indeed. [The script is also tantalisingly strewed with cultural references that are teases of clues to the underbelly of the intent of the play (e.g.references to THE SEVENTH SEAL, ROSEMARY'S BABY etc) and are so lightly sewn into the conversation of the characters that to read the text becomes a treasure trove of pleasure, for those of us who enjoy cultural referencing.] The cumulative impact of the play was such that I began to re-examine my own close relationships, testing my comprehension of my own role: when the abuser, when the abused, when the "terrorist" and when the "victim" - an interesting and not always comfortable task! Good theatre in action.

The style of this company to use dance and music alongside the usual "acting" of the text as part of the narrative forward movement of the story is very exciting. We have seen other companies exploring this. It is very interesting to see a theatre company include physical gesture as part of the armoury of the theatrical event,and it certainly clarifies the Fabulous Beasts recent production of GISELLE, where, alternatively, a dance company was exploring vocal/acting gesture to inform their dramatic intent. This cross hybrid of skills and expectations is exciting. (The origin of some of this work can be pioneered/sourced to the DV8 Physical Theatre Company - an English company last seen at the 2008 Adelaide Festival - TO BE STRAIGHT WITH YOU, led by an Australian Lloyd Newson). The direction/choreography, Mr Hoggett and Graham supported by a very vital score by Adrienne Quartly is very interesting and clever.

The problem for this manifestation of the play, here, in Sydney is the casting of these two actors. Neither of these actors demonstrates an ease with the physical demands of the choreography/direction. The skills of these actors are not physically dexterous enough for the full theatrical potential of this innovative form. Not only is the dexterity insufficient, the bodies lack even an alive alertness, that magical tension that exists with a physical consciousness that the actors of Theatre Complicite, recently demonstrated in their remarkable work, A DISAPPEARING NUMBER or Kathryn Hunter showed in KAFKA'S MONKEY. Rather they exuded a tentative nervousness. (If you check the web site of Frantic Assembly, the video of the original cast and the skill level is perceptible. One can observe the confident difference. The impact is, sadly, obviously different.)

Socratis Otto is outstanding in the other stylistic demands of the text, Leeanna Walsman, much less so (see SATURN'S RETURN) and it is a compliment to the strength of the writing and the original conception of the production that the performance holds and creates a powerful impact.

This production is a demonstration of one of the very vital movements in contemporary theatre making. It highlights the complex demands that the contemporary actor is been asked to develop in their skill armoury. The potential of the production style is worth catching, despite its unevenness in physical confidence, but, even more reason not to miss this production, is, the writing of Bryony Lavery.

Playing now until 24 April.
For more information or to book click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought the cast were both pretty good, especially as they are not dancers. I agree, the script is really brilliant. Not sure if the normal STC theatre goers will handle the language though. Jennifer Irwin (costume) is Australian and not part of their creative deal.