Frantic Assembly and The Drum Theatre, Plymouth
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, and touring
Stockholm tells an all too familiar story: man and woman meet, fall in love, the relationship screws up. But the elements of the story and the story telling reach for the highest standards of theatre. And the show does reach a very high standard on all fronts.
Bryony Lavery's script is wonderfully sparse and clean-cut. Since the programme is the script, it is interesting to see what changes were made in the rehearsal room. Some improvements, some cutting of cloth that add nothing, some lovely melding to action.
We meet Todd (Samuel James) and Kali (Georgina Lamb) - the perfect young couple, so well matched, so loving their dream house and dream life together. It's Todd's birthday, tomorrow they go for a perfect city break in Stockholm. They take us back to their first meeting, then the rot sets in and we see the shabby underside (or insides) of their life together. Jealousy, the worm that flies in the night, fuelled by booze, leads to fight, a brief flash forward to a bleak and over-dramatic future, then reconciliation on a bed suspended high above the stage. Stockholm because of the Stockholm Syndrome where captives affiliate with the captors.
It's a story of 30 somethings for 30 somethings. The audience of 30 somethings titter with recognition, then titter nervously, then inhale with shame, shock or horror. Then, I guess, feel distinctly queasy. Because for many of them it's a new story. And how it undermines their dreams or fantasies.
The strength is in the telling. Samuel James and Georgina Lamb are superbly matched and skilled - well up to the acting, dancing, and athletics. To say the roles are demanding is an understatement. The emotional and physical demands are monstrous, James and Lamb are faultless and sometimes breathtaking.
The narrative is well articulated, though some dance sequences are simply too long. For example, the couple unpack their shopping, together, in a brilliant display of physical theatre, telling us about their lives and their relationships, even their diet! Fantastic story telling... but it goes on and on, and on. As if Hamlet got to the end of his great soliloquy, then did it again. Then again. Then again. Then, by implication, said, 'Let's get back to the play then shall we?'
A lighter touch on movement would have saved five minutes. And the play is five to ten minutes too long. And, with such cutting, how the piece would have sparkled!
The set makes promises it doesn't fulfil - early on, when our protagonists have sex on the staircase the set flushes with red light and flowers burst from the walls - brilliant, awesome! If it's this good after fifteen minutes what wonders will follow? Well, standard set design and a cardboard clock. If there is to be one great 'set' moment, at least put it near the end.
Lighting and sound are first class, doing the job, never drawing attention to themselves. Direction, apart from the overruns on the dance sequences is excellent.
One little quibble, in a play which has some explosive (and explosively funny) linguistic obscenities, how can you justify a couple in bed wearing gratuitous underclothing?
But it is the excellence of the whole production that makes for little quibbles, there are no big ones. This is top class theatre in which the component parts come together and create magic. Catch it if you can.