Autumn And Winter – May 2011

5/10

By: Lars Noren, translated by Gunilla Anderman

Directed by: Derek Goldby

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Tuesday 24th May 2011

Steve and I have been seeing more Scandinavian drama on TV recently; not only the original Wallander from Sweden, but also The Killing from Denmark – a deserved Bafta winner. So I was happy to find that this play is by Sweden’s leading playwright, but I wisely kept my expectations low. One hour forty-five with no interval – it’s a high-risk situation.

Set: bare floorboards, light-coloured wash, round table laid with the tail-end of dinner – wine bottles, both red and white, variously full to empty with glasses ditto, plates with salad bits on them, cold meat and cheese on boards, bowls with salad remnants, bread basket almost out of supplies, one ashtray in the opposite condition. Four chairs stood around the table, and a couple of boots were scattered around, with a small black handbag hung over the back of one chair. To our left was a small bureau with photos on top and pigeonholes and two cupboards beneath. Across from us was a sofa with side table and lamp, and round to the right was a dark wood sideboard with a footstool underneath, which held the drinks decanter tray and a small lamp. To the right of it stood a cut-away floor-to-ceiling window – only the very bottom and very top were shown, connected by a slim rod. In the corner immediately to my left was an old-fashioned stove with a mantelpiece, all decked out in tiles with a simple green and white pattern. In the opposite corner, above the main entrance, hung a large portrait of a lady; from her dress I would have said early to middle 20th century. Just before the off, a small TV on a stand was placed in the main entranceway. This was never used.

The play began with the cast strolling on, indulging in some high quality rhubarb, as if they’d all just gone into another room and were returning to finish their meal. During the post-show, it was explained that the play just began, with no preamble, and Sam Walters stated that he would have just started with the lights coming on. The conversation then takes several turns for the worse, as Ann, the rebellious, troubled daughter, vents her feelings about her terrible childhood and demands answers from her parents as to why she feels so bad about herself. The various problems that the family have experienced over the years come tumbling out – distant father and cruel manipulative mother competing for younger daughter’s love, older goody-two-shoes daughter holding in all her problems and doping herself into a highly competitive workaholic lifestyle which seems to have ruled out the possibility of children, etc., etc. It’s all fairly standard stuff, and while it’s good to recognise the universality of human suffering – the Swedes have unhappy families, too – there was no great insight here to lift this above the average family confrontation drama. I could certainly recognise aspects of my own family life, now a distant memory, but I didn’t feel involved with the characters enough to care about them or how this particular family occasion would turn out, which probably explains why I nodded off during the last half hour a few times. From what Steve tells me, I didn’t miss much.

The enjoyable aspects of this afternoon’s offering were the performances and the occasional snippet of humour. I didn’t catch all of the jokes, as I did have some difficulty hearing all of the lines, but there were a few gems amongst the chaff. And all four actors did a splendid job of bringing their characters to life. Again from the post-show discussion, we learned that one of the actors had joined the team at short notice, which had led to more cuts than intended (thank God!), but we couldn’t tell from the performances who it was.

Also from the post-show, either Teunkie van der Sluijs, the assistant director, or Sam himself told us that the writer’s intention with this piece had originally been to send the audience screaming into the night at the end of the play. He’d moderated that intention, however: now he just wanted half of the audience to leave the theatre screaming, and for the other half to feel their lives had been transformed. He’ll have to do a lot better than this effort to have either effect on us!

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