Stockholm | Red Stitch Actors TheatreLeft – Brett Cousins and Luisa Hastings Edge. Photos – Jodie Hutchinson

is undoubtedly one of the most satisfying theatre productions I have seen in some time. It has all the elements that make for a memorable theatrical experience: great script, strong peformances, effective set (simple but evocative), lighting and sound that enhance the emotions of the moment, all drawn together by that miracle worker, a director (in this case Tanya Gerstle) who has a clear vision of what is to be communicated and who works with all involved to realise that vision. Stockholm is a true ensemble piece.

Bryony Lavery is a British actor turned playwright whose works include Beautiful Burnout which was recently performed by the National Theatre of Scotland and Frantic Assembly as part of this year's Perth International Arts Festival. With Stockholm, Lavery has crafted a powerful drama that explores a deeply dysfunctional relationship akin to the traumatic bonding that sometimes develops between captor and hostage and which has come to be known as Stockholm Syndrome.

Kali (Luisa Hastings-Edge) and Todd (Brett Cousins) when we first meet them, appear to be your typical middle class, yuppie couple. They prefer film classics such as those by Ingmar Bergman; they are planning their regular trip to Stockholm, their favourite holiday escape; and they are busy renovating their home. However, slowly but surely, cracks begin to appear in their relationship; 'retro-jealousy' rears its ugly head and things begin to fall apart, moving from anger to physical violence. It is a credit to both Hastings-Edge and Brett Cousins (as also to the writing) that we never lose empathy with Kali and Todd, instead we find ourselves caring deeply about what happens to them.

Lavery's many-layered script is strong and a real challenge for the actors. It asks each of them to alternate between third person commentary and dialogue, echoing the characters' movements back and forth from observation to intimacy. At the same time demands a high level of physicality, from tender love-making to violent physical exchanges.  At times the language is truly poetic, at others violent and angry, at others genuinely funny.

Peter Mumford's set is clean and simple and effectively creates three levels, from attic to living/kitchen area and cellar, with the assistance of a ladder and a moveable kitchen bench.  Richard Vabre's lighting design works wonderfully to highlight and enhance key moments in the drama, some of which are visually stunning. The sound (Tanya Gerstle and Sunny Leunig) is equally effective; never intrusive, always complementary.

Stockholm runs for sixty minutes without an interval, insuring that there is no let up in the dramatic build up. It is the kind of theatre that draws you in, captivates your attention and has you wanting to know more about the characters. Whilst Kali and Todd's relationship is extreme, they retain our empathy as, for better or for worse, we are able to see some of our behaviours in theirs.

Stockholm is a powerful piece of theatre and this production is not to be missed by theatre lovers. It's the sort of show that one could happily see more than once and still find new elements to intrigue, amaze and provoke.

Red Stitch Actors Theatre presents
by Bryony Lavery

Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre | Rear 2 Chapel Street, St. Kilda VIC

Dates: April 27 – May 26, 2012
Times: Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 4pm and 8pm (no Sat 4pm show 28/4), Sundays 6.30pm
Bookings: 9533 8083

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