Act, Terminal 3
The Print Room, Coronet, 13th June 2018
Lars Noren is considered by many of those who purport to know about these things to be Sweden’s greatest living playwright. He certainly looks the part. His writing is oft compared to Beckett and Pinter. The Print Room is a terrific space. The intimacy of fringe with, if you are careful, a comfortable enough perch and an atmospheric bar. And a bargain on Wednesday night. As a dedicated Scandi-phile I was well up for this.
Mind you I had read enough to realise this wasn’t set to be an evening of Cooney-ish farce. Once again I invite you to look at our Mr Noren above, This was going to be spikey, elusive, provocative, an air of brooding unease pervading the whole, in short proper European “art-theatre”. No conventional narrative of course. Past, present and futures unclear. Cast having to work extra hard to earn their corn (which they all did, admirably). Well it certainly lived up to the billing. Which was both good and bad.
Act sets out to explore the “symbiotic” relationship between State and Terrorist and was originally located in West Germany in the 1970s and the incarceration of Ulrike Meinhof. Director Anthony Nielsen has chosen to re-imagine the play in a near future USA post a Second Civil War where “red” secessionist states have been occupied by an authoritarian, left-leaning government. Interesting, a la mode, but ultimately unnecessary in my view, and not immediately obvious from the dialogue. G, venomously played by Barnaby Power, albeit with an improbable Southern drawl, is a doctor for the regime, holed up in some makeshift hospital/prison full of symbolic Americana. Temi Wilkey is M, the enemy of the state set to undergo further (?) examination/interrogation. They may have had a past encounter. There is little in the way of argument or context in their exchanges which are more along the lines of a psychological arm-wrestle as each takes their own experiences and beliefs to alternately cajole and belittle the other. I guess the overriding aim is, Foucault-like, to show the inter-dependence of captive and captor, and there are some arresting lines, as it were, but it was frustratingly opaque.
Terminal 3, again some 45 minutes or so, was a little more straightforward, but not by much. Two couples emerge either side of a screen centre stage courtesy of designer Laura Hopkins, imposingly lit by Nigel Edwards, and with buckets of dry ice. It transpires that Man and Woman (of course Mr Noren doesn’t dilute his art with names), Barnaby Power and Hannah Young have come to a hospital chapel of sorts to identify the body of their dead son. In contrast He and She (!), Robert Stocks and Temi Wilkey, are in a hospital as She is about to give birth. At least I think that was the set-up. This then becomes the stepping off point for a dense exploration of the impact of the beginning and end of life on the two couples. Mr Nielson’s direction, as the couples seem disorientated by their situations, fumbling in near darkness towards the end, (terminal ?), was unyieldingly gnomic.
So puzzling, inaccessible, provocative. Yes. And maybe just a bit daft. Yep, maybe. But here’s the thing. Like so many of these more challenging theatrical experiences it does stay in the memory, and sometimes for longer than more straightforwardly enjoyable entertainments. I have a recollection that none other than the mighty Caryl Churchill once said that she aimed to create a few lasting impressions in the audience for her plays. Anything more not being possible given the nature of memory. She might not have said this though given she doesn’t say much and my memory is fallible, or do I mean malleable. You get the idea. Not saying these two short plays really qualify but, by making me search for meaning, they might persist.