Review: Stockholm ‘The poetics of cruelty’ – La Boite Theatre

If this play were a comedy, you might be tempted to toss in a phrase like ‘sex in the kitchen’ for impact. Stockholm, however, is most definitely not a comedy, and whilst there’s sex-play aplenty in the kitchen in the STC production currently playing at La Boite Theatre, this reviewer left the auditorium on opening night feeling, well … gutted … a not inappropriate reaction given the play’s content and a set wall which features some wicked looking knives. This forensic dissection of a relationship from Brit writer Bryony Lavery works through the senses and probes the mind; it’s a powerfully realised 70 minutes of vital performance that could happen nowhere else but on stage.

Sometimes you see a work that triumphantly displays its theatricality; Stockholm is one of them.

The play’s title gives a clue to the thread running through the work, a syndrome that encompasses the love-hate relationship between captor and the captured, the powerful and the powerless, the torturer and the tortured. Todd and Kali (incidentally, the Hindu goddess of death, and wife of Shiva) reminded me a lot of another warring, dramatic couple – George and Martha, albeit in the kitchen with knives rather than in the living room with booze where Albee sets Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It’s the same, drawn out dance of death, both couples locked in an embrace designed to hurt and to go on repeating itself ad nauseum. Indeed, those knives on the wall can also call up an impression of an abattoir; you just know there’s going to be blood on the floor before the night is out. Stockholm also creates a good-looking, middle class world for its well-heeled characters to inhabit – that designer kitchen and smart chat are just veneer on a surface. Finally, there is a palpable feeling of isolation in this self-absorbed world, one that excludes all but the protagonists.

Much of Stockholm operates along a polarised continuum: love and hate; comedy and tragedy; text and movement; stillness and action; realism and theatricalism. It’s in the play between these elements that the dramatic tension surfaces. Its tonal range is wide and, unlike Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf with its walls of words, Stockholm‘s text gives – demands even – an expressive freedom from the entirety of its actors’ bodies, and the stage world they inhabit. Senses are aroused: touch through hard surfaces meeting skin, itself adorned with sharp tattoo markings; smell and taste; sound that is playful, voices in extremis.

Leeanna Walsman and Socratis Otto are terrific, period. Two actors at the top of their game, they play together in a terrifying dance of death, engage in a thrilling poetics on the nature of the human condition.

I hate the bleakness and hopelessness at the heart of Stockholm, but I love Lavery’s text, and the sheer inventiveness of director-choreographers Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett’s staged realisation. The production values of this play are really superb. It’s been a while since I have seen a performance that gathers and focusses every element of the production into meaning through action. There’s not an excessive moment, or a beat missed. Bodies in repose or fully extended physically and emotionally are set against constantly surprising visual and sonic elements. It makes for a dynamic and utterly compelling piece of theatre.

Be warned, Stockholm shocks and jars. As all good theatre does, it will stay with you long after you leave the auditorium.

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