Gate Theatre, 4th November 2017
The Gate under Ellen McDougall has found another blinding play, this time courtesy of French writer Magali Mougel (translated by Chris Campbell). Visceral only begins to describe it. Ms Mougel has created a modern-day Medea and invested it with an arresting, and bleak, poetry. This is about as sharp a dissection of the prison of gender roles and maternal “instincts” as you could hope to see in just over an hour.
Suzy Storck has three kids and hates her life. A patronising mother, a selfish husband who offers no support and whinges about how hard he works, an untidy flat, a career that stopped with bagging chickens, a baby that won’t sleep and two older siblings who never stop needing. She’s knackered, it’s boiling hot in her tiny flat, so she opts to knock back the vino and escape with an unfortunate consequence. We flashback to her life before the kids, her childhood memories, meeting and dreaming with husband Hans Vassily, enjoying her job at the poultry factory before it closed, an agonising interview arranged by Mum, the conception of the children.
So far, so predictable you might be thinking. You’d be wrong though. Not because the plot turns up anything extraordinary, quite the reverse. But the disorientating language, rhythm and structure of the play brings the story to exhausting life creating a very recognisable universal out of the painful specific. We have a Chorus in the form of Kate Duchene (also the Mother) and Theo Solomon (also the Children) who comment, probe and articulate. We have some creative intervention from props, video, lighting and sound. The audience even helps out. We have pained monologue and recollection. We have some powerful argument.
Jonah Russell as Hans Vassilly Kreuz, who has popped up to admirable effect in a few things I have seen, is spot on as the ineffectual male sh*t full of self-pity. The whole thing though hinges on the performance of Caoilfhionn Dunne who is shatteringly magnificent. She caught my eye in Mike Barlett’s Wild at the Hampstead Theatre last year as well as in The Nest at the Young Vic and Our Country’s Good and The Veil at the NT. Up close, in the scene where she won’t play the game in an interview for a job in a shop, and in the drunk scene at the end, she is utterly, physically real. Her eyes dull, her limbs hang heavy, the stuff of life drains out of her. Terrific stuff.
Director and designer, Jean-Pierre Baro and Cecile Tremolieres seem to have effortlessly opened up what I suspect is a very existential French text into an equally powerful English equivalent. There is no let up until you get out and down the stairs. But at least you can get out. Unlike Suzy. Well worth seeing.