Socratis Otto and Leeanna Walsman. Photos - Brett Boardman
What's really going on inside the head of your lover? Do we ever really know the person we love? And is the bliss of love always tinged with a certain anger, with jealousy, with madness? These are the questions posed in the shockingly amazing production of Stockholm by Bryony Lavery and Frantic Assembly, on at La Boite.
Todd (Socratis Otto) and Kali (Leeanna Walsman) are in love. Almost sickeningly so. Together, they've built the perfect home and they're leaving for a perfect holiday to Stockholm in just a matter of days. On the day we meet them, it's Todd's birthday and they're having the perfect day, ending in a romantic dinner for two, prepared by him. As the night goes on, we learn how they met, what they love most about each other, how they exist together. And we see the true extent of just how sickening their love can be. It's intoxicating, desperate and clutching and we are astounded by how much of ourselves we see in them.
Their interactions as a couple ring so true. Like when Kali innocently asks Todd to describe his BEST MEAL EVER and after he's finished describing it, there's a pregnant pause before she asks: "And when was this?" Almost any woman can tell you that what she really means is "And who was that with??" It's full of these little real-life moments: the arguments you have over each other's parents, the sneaky afternoon romps, the comedy routines that only the two of you know. Stockholm finds all of these familiar things and lays them out for us on-stage, naked and exposed.
Bryony Lavery's script is tense, taut, funny, carefully measured and masterful. I was particularly in awe of the way that she could effortlessly make the characters switch their speech from first- to third-person to allow us to see the perfect public face and the true face that lies below.
Contrasting beautifully to Lavery's script is the stylised physicality of Stockholm. Directors and choreographers Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett have made this powerful study of how two bodies exist in the same space at the same time; sometimes it's a perfectly in-sync dance, sometimes it's a jarring battle.
The choreography ranges from traditional dance to acrobatics to just pure physicality. Otto and Walsman are fearless as they throw their bodies around on the stage, or climb onto a high kitchen bench to perform a sensuous movement piece.
The set (designed by Laura Hopkins) that these two bodies occupy is full of secrets and hidden things, and it becomes a symbol for the things these two keep hidden from each other, and from themselves. Panels rise from the floor to seemingly lift the characters into thin air, what looks like a roof becomes a precariously hanging bed, a desk is not what it seems to be. It's absolute genius and produces much of the tension and excitement of the play.
The perfect kitchen (complete with an ominous array of knives on the back wall) is the centre for much of the action, with Otto actually cooking the beginnings of what smells like a very buttery meal on stage. The smell elicits such a sensory reaction: it makes everything seem so "normal" and "homely". But the metaphor is always present. A kitchen is where things are made to be eaten, and these two are locked in the ultimate all-consuming relationship (in one stunning scene involving knives and forks, Todd and Kali literally devour each other).
Walsman and Otto are incredible performers. As Kali, Walsman is initially effusive and playful. But lurking underneath the surface, Walsman shows us that there is a manic intensity to Kali, and when she releases it, she is breathtaking. Her emotion was so real that I felt I barely breathed during her most intense scenes.
Otto makes Todd such a charming, seductive, loving man but like Walsman, he is brilliant at showing us that underneath all his confidence, there is a well of doubt and secrets. The way they work together as a couple, and the intimacy they achieve is what brings Stockholm to life as a play. Their kisses, their little routines, their spats and their darkest battles feel unnervingly close to the bone.
I'm sure you're familiar with the symbolism and origins of the term "Stockholm Syndrome", so I won't labour the point here. But the act of feeling a connection to, perhaps even love for, the person who keeps you prisoner and abuses your trust is the perfect metaphor for this show about how destructive and how captivating love can be. It's a work that's equal parts experimental and yet oh-so-familiar. You'll leave Stockholm feeling sad, happy, relieved. exhausted and, like me, throughly privileged to have seen it.
A Sydney Theatre Company production in association with Frantic Assembly
by Bryony Lavery
Directors and Choreographers Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett
Venue: Roundhouse Theatre, Kelvin Grove Urban Village
Dates: 28 April – 22 May
Times: Tues-Wed 6.30pm, Thu-Sat 7.30pm, Sun 5pm + selected mid-week matinees (see www.laboite.com.au for details)
Tickets: from $25
Bookings: (07) 3007 8600 | www.laboite.com.au