theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
Frantic Assembly have a come a long way. Actually, they were always ahead of the game, into the mingling of extended physical movement and text long before it became today’s fashionable theatrical modus vivendi. Watching their latest collaboration with writer Bryony Lavery, I kept thinking of how protagonists in musicals launch into song when words are no longer able to contain their emotional needs or desires. This seems to be the way, too, with Frantic Assembly, characters breaking out into movement when their emotional states can simply not be conveyed fully enough in words. In Stockholm, a violent, lyrical, haunting story of abusive love, that happens frequently.
Frantic have always gone for the personal over the political. Look at their back catalogue of productions and what links the gut-wrenching, pool (no water), Hymns, Tiny Dynamite or Sell Out, apart from having scripts by some of the best writers going – Mark Ravenhill, Abi Morgan, Michael Wynne – is their focus on exploring the dynamics of personal relationships, be they groups of friends or lovers. As Big Issue wrote of Frantic Assembly over ten years ago: ‘No company working in Britain today has done so much to make theatre accessible and relevant to a generation of twenty-somethings.’ The message is in the style but the material has been a steady, unerring and uncompromising anatomy of the dynamics of contemporary personal relationships.
Well, now the guys, Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, Frantic’s founding helmsmen, must be beginning to feel if not a midlife crisis, the ripple of thirties hubris starting to lap around their ankles. In the published script they write of Stockholm having been inspired by watching those they love destroy themselves without being able to intervene. They are speaking not of drugs – though, perhaps in a sense, there is an addiction going on here – but of emotionally violent and abusive relationships where the partners seem unwilling or indeed unable to break the bond. It is apparently called the Stockholm Syndrome. Hence the title.
In this love story for our age, Kali (Georgina Lamb) and Todd (Samuel James) love each other to bits. Together, they have created their own perfect world – Laura Hopkins’ stainless steel, open-plan kitchen with its rows of gleaming kitchen knives sums up exactly the must-have quality of today’s aspirational professionals where everything must be the latest, most up-to-date brand; at once a gleaming testimony to hyper-control and the danger lurking within consumer delusions of perfection.
Together, Todd and Kali are planning their perfect holiday, to Stockholm. James introduces this scenario initially on a bare stage with a knowing smugness caught with characteristic flair by Lavery. They are just so ‘into each other’, and that throwaway ‘couple’ shorthand. Witness these exchanges on their first meeting.
Todd: Hi. Adam.
Kali: Hi. Eve.
Todd: Actually…no either. Actually. …David.
Kali: Hi David. Victoria…
Kali: Actually No!!!’
And so it goes on. Eventually, they reveal their true names. It’s all very short, sharp – and telling. We gather it’s Todd birthday and in between a quick ‘servicing’ of Todd by Kali – highly charged, against a violent red wallpaper – we see him preparing the perfect birthday dinner and begin to sense inner demons (in Todd’s head) emerging (a too adoring mother, amongst other things). We also begin to sense Kali as the more commanding of the two. Samuel James, wonderfully lithe of body, seems just a shade more acquiescing to Georgina Lamb’s Kali (rather against the run of these things, I’d have thought, where it is women who generally find themselves on the abused end of abusive relationships). In a highly stylised table-top duet the two literally ‘devour’ each other with lascivious knives and forks. Bliss was theirs, though not for long. Soon, the little green monster is beginning to make itself felt, through that minefield of modern betrayal, the mobile phone.
World War Three is about to break out as Kali, finding the name and number of an unknown woman in Todd’s mobile, springs into accusation mode. A terrible battle ensues, no holds spared.
But that is only the half of it for perhaps the most frightening aspect of Stockholm only now begins to come into play. We begin to realise this scenario is one frequently re-enacted by them, moreover one usually followed by heavy remorse, love-making (in a dangerously tilted bed) and the introduction of the most chilling image of the evening – the children that ensue from this kind of relationship.
For, typically, Lavery highlights one of the darker aberrations to which modern society is prone. Stockholm becomes a play and a piece about people who love too much, whose offspring become the children we see in headlines killed by warring parents – a father who takes his own life and at the same time, that of his two young sons; a mother who drowns herself and her children as dreadful acts of revenge on the departing/rejecting partner.
Seventy minutes long, Lavery’s text, Laura Hopkins’ design, Graham and Hoggett’s choreography and Adrienne Quartly’s mood music add up to a baleful and, in the end, dire warning about the nature of intense coupledom and possessiveness. If only Todd and Kali could have let each other have a freer rein. James and Lamb, are, needless to say, completely stunning – as adept as actors as they are as physical performers. Riveting stuff.
Carole Woddis © 2008
Originally published on R&V Tuesday 20th May 2008
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