Being Norwegian

David Greig
Shunt Vaults, London Bridge
(2007)

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Òran Mór have clearly come up with a winning formula. Next month they will present their 100th play in the popular A Play, A Pie and A Pint format.

The British Theatre Guide reviewed three samples during this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, of which the pick was Tir Nan Og, and it is great to see more primarily Scottish work coming down to London, thanks to a partnership with Paines Plough.

The name gives it all away, although the southern version is a little different from the original since performances take place at six o'clock in the evening rather than lunchtime. The idea in Glasgow was to encourage office workers to take an hour out to watch a play, in this case 45 minutes long, and, as an encouragement, to feed them and give them a drink.

On the admin front, the vegetarian pie was tasty and surprisingly filling, while in the interests of criticism, it is only possible to report that the bottles of beer looked mischievously tempting.

Being Norwegian is a comedy for two actors, directed by Roxana Silbert, which packs an awful lot into only three quarters of an hour. As so often in his work, David Greig explores national identity and difference in the context of a one night stand that is destined never to happen.

The location is a shabby flat in a Glasgow high-rise owned by Stewart Porter's Sean, a man in his 40s who seems surprisingly shy and unworldly. His guest, in a property that contains no furniture beyond piles of boxes and a sofa that is shedding its innards, is pretty blonde Lisa, played by Meg Fraser. One of the joys of this production is an intimacy demanded by a space, including 40 or so audience seats, that is hardly larger than an average living room.

Though seemingly local, Lisa explains that she is in fact Norwegian and to make things a little more exotic hails from Trondheim in the land of the midnight sun.

Rarely can a pub pickup have thrown together two such diverse personalities. Sean is uncertain and lacking in confidence, having been deserted by wife and child after a spell in prison for an offence that is never named.

As a contrast, Lisa is tactile, outgoing and frankly horny. She attributes all of this to her Norwegian roots and is baffled to the point of distraction when her amorous advances are repeatedly rebuffed.

The comedy comes both from the situation, a reversal of the norm, of a woman making the sexual running and a man backing off, and also the conversation. Time and again, a misunderstanding or difference in outlook is attributed to a Norwegianism that is in any event probably fictional.

By the end of this short play, you feel as if you know these two people surprisingly well and that is a real tribute to the skills of David Greig; as well as a pair of fine actors who bear up well to close scrutiny, although Miss Fraser could have done with lowering the volume on occasion.

Being Norwegian is the first play of four, each of which runs from Wednesday to Saturday. Over the next three weeks (commencing on 7 November), there is an opportunity to see Crazy Love by Ché Walker, Between Dog and Wolf by Sean Buckley and The Dirt Under the Carpet by Rona Munro. Further information is available on the Young Vic and Paines Plough websites.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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