Magalie Mougel, translated by Chris Campbell
Gate Theatre, Notting Hill
From 26 October 2017 to 18 November 2017
Review by Philip Fisher
For reasons that are not entirely clear, there is a vein of gritty, existentialist playwriting about a depressed underclass, which thrives on the continent but has few if any British exponents.
The 75-minute long Suzy Storck from French playwright Magalie Mougel in an English translation by Chris Campbell might best be compared to Roberto Zucco by Bernard-Marie Koltes or much of the oeuvre of Franz-Xaver Kroetz, including The Nest, the most recent production of which featured the same leading actress.
For her second production as Artistic Director of the Gate, Ellen McDougall has invited the French director of the original production, Jean-Pierre Baro, to work with a fresh English cast led by Caoilfhionn Dunne, who gives an outstanding performance in the title role of a kind of latterday Medea.
As the audience slowly trails into an auditorium set up in-the-round by designer Cécile Trémolières and featuring a kitchen littered with children’s toys, rather like an untidy Tracy Emin installation, the mother of three is on to her third bottle of wine at the kitchen table.
The initial impression is of a slovenly drunk who is almost certainly neglecting her parental duties. However, as a deliberately obscure evening develops, helped along by a dryly ironic dual chorus of Kate Duchêne and Theo Solomon, a detailed portrait of a woman at the end of her tether emerges.
Putting events back into chronological order, Suzy had always been somewhat directionless, hardly helped by a harsh, unsympathetic mother.
While working at a chicken processing plant, she met Jonah Russell’s Hans Vassily, fell into something approximating to love and married the no-nonsense manual worker with junior management aspirations.
The difference in the pair’s outlooks becomes painfully apparent after their employer closes down the business when Suzy shares her determination to pursue a career while avoiding parenthood at all costs.
By the time of the eternal night of 17 June (year unstated) when the midsummer sun never sets and we are invited into the family’s messy kitchen, Hans Vassily has very literally had his way, with three children appearing in less than six years and his wife psychologically chained to the little ones.
It takes the vast majority of the running time to discover the full details of a dramatic event that fuels the play and justifies its existence.
Only at that point is it possible for viewers to re-evaluate the information that they have been given, often more than once, and look into the hearts and souls of the husband and wife, while also getting brief glimpses into the minds of her brutal mother and the oldest of the tiny children.
Suzy Storck certainly does not make for comfortable viewing and takes time to address its major issue head-on. This production succeeds thanks to the truly gut-wrenching performance delivered by Caoilfhionn Dunne, which will live in the memory long after those who are lucky enough to witness it leave the theatre.