Act & Terminal 3
Print Room at the Coronet
Reviewed – 5th June 2018
“‘Terminal 3’ is a triumph, eerie and tender, utterly human even at its most abstracted points”
Lars Norén is celebrated by many as Sweden’s greatest living writer, and the Print Room at the Coronet stages a double bill of his two shorter plays, ‘Act’ and ‘Terminal 3’, translated by Marita Lindholm Gochman.
‘Act’ is about the relationship between State and terrorist. Originally set in 1970s post-war Germany, the play is based around the incarceration of Ulrike Meinhof, but director Anthony Neilson has removed these references, and instead places the play in a dystopian future America, following a second civil war, complete with a Texan physician brilliantly embodied by the enigmatic Barnaby Power. Whilst this is a good idea in practice, the only reference we have for this is visual, and the reality of this is a lack of clarity that leaves the audience in a continual and unresolved quest for context. A competently done piece fuelled by Power’s performance in particular, it has promise, but due to its lack of clear placement, it seems to float, making the moments of discomfort easier to disengage with, and the overall impact severely lessened.
‘Terminal 3’ is a triumph, eerie and tender, utterly human even at its most abstracted points. Fog steams out over the audience, drowning us momentarily. Two couples wait. She is waiting to give birth, He at her side, whether she wants him there or not. Woman and Man wait to identify a body. Birth and death are directly aligned, Prosecco and flowers are proffered against a background of sobs. All four actors excel, distinct in their characterisations but equally adept in creating a coherent whole, not a weak link among them. Moving and disturbing, but laced with a desperately dark humour, the beauty and skill of Norén’s writing shines through across both pieces, but particularly in this latter one.
The design by Laura Hopkins across both pieces is consistently fantastic. The stage of ‘Act’ is a busy one on the periphery, bulk packages of Marlborough cigarettes and Coca Cola cans, a running machine, a mattress, a camping chair made out of a faded American flag. The central stage is bare apart from a single chair, hemmed in by lights – “there’s never any darkness,” M says of her cell. ‘Terminal 3’ splits the stage in two, one corner filled with flowers, the opposite corner with candles. The stage is divided by a semi-transparent screen, that turns as the space changes. Here, Nigel Edwards’ lighting design really comes into its own, unafraid to leave us in darkness, playing with shadows, lights that throb and stutter, a truly creative design that allows the space and the atmosphere to be reinvented over and over.
Seeing the plays alongside each other creates a lovely opportunity to directly compare the works and to begin to acknowledge themes in Norén’s work and way of thinking.
This is a double bill as it should be: beautifully written, beautifully designed and fantastically performed.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
Photography by Tristram Kenton
Act & Terminal 3
Print Room at the Coronet until 30th June
Previously reviewed at this venue
The Old Vic
Reviewed – 9th February 2018
“Ayckbourn side-steps the familiarity of the bitter-sweet, domestic comedy and offers a futuristic, dystopian fantasy”
A century from now. Sarum, south of the Divide. Post-plague. In the aftermath of a fatal disease which has wiped out most of the male population and consequently blamed on women, the two sexes live geographically separated; men dress in pure white and women in sinful black; homosexual relationships are the norm and heterosexuality is prohibited. Alan Ayckbourn side-steps the familiarity of the bitter-sweet, domestic comedy and offers a futuristic, dystopian fantasy. Its reception by those expecting a new experimental play has to some extent ignored its history. It was conceived as a piece of prose which could also be performed as a narrative for voice, first presented in Scarborough (2015) as an innovative five-part, day-long reading, whereas this lavish and detailed production is an adaptation by Baylis Director at The Old Vic, Annabel Bolton.
The Divide is turned from prose to drama using an array of techniques. Laura Hopkins’ versatile, gauze-layered set uses platforms and sliding panels which give a sense of expanded space and is embellished with intricate projections, including hand-written manuscript, and imaginative and meticulous lighting (David Plater and Ash J Woodward). Immaculate Amish-inspired costumes are beautifully devised, adjusting from the initial monochrome as the story progresses and original music by Christopher Nightingale is performed onstage by musicians and choir, all building up a sense of grandeur and expectation. Yet the author’s intended lightness of the tone is signalled with humour from the start. Taken from diaries, letters and meeting minutes, the script is, by nature, wordy. However, in pursuit of theatricality, subtle touches such as the artful, upside-down shadows are easily overlooked and there are some awkward changes of timbre, for example, the candlelit community choir overlap uncomfortably with the down to earth style of the dialogue.
The fluidity and variety in the staging is much needed to hold the audience’s attention for this trim four-hour version and the inevitable wordiness of a production shaped from prose is remarkably performed, even if the characters are often defined by narrative rather than dialogue. Erin Doherty is outstanding as quirky Soween who, through her diary written from the age of nine, recounts the development of her own feelings and relationships and her part in the downfall of the Divide. Jake Davies’ Elihu, her brother, is excellent, portraying innocent perplexity at the workings of the world, and there are fine performances by Weruche Opia as Giella, who sparks the forbidden feelings, Thusitha Jayasundera as Mapa, patriarch of the family and Richard Katz who plays Elihu’s irredeemable tutor.
A dystopian society built on homosexual relationships is perhaps an unintentionally reactionary view, and the influence of Margaret Atwood is hard to deny. But in the end, for all its new ideas, futuristic genre and topical themes, The Divide has Ayckbourn’s hallmark charm and commentary on the misunderstandings and miscommunications between the genders, in a grandiose but watchable production.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Manuel Harlan