Venue: Drama Barn
Running: 5 to 7 March
Let’s get a couple of things clear. I loathe promenade performances. Being made to stand on increasingly numbed feet and trying not to brush the arm of the stranger standing next to you is rarely conducive to actually drawing me into the drama, and companies who focus on physical immersion at the expense of actual storytelling leave me cold. One more thing: the original production of Stockholm (by Frantic Assembly in 2007) is spectacular, with a moving set and breathtakingly precise choreography – it’s in the library and I demand that you take a look. I had watched the recording three days before I went to the barn and, added to my distrust of having to walk around a performance, I had certain expectations.
In a way, this play is all about expectations. As we enter through the back door of the Barn, we’re let into a stylish house owned by a picture-perfect couple, Todd and Kali (Chris White and Serena Manteghi). They fill their days with good food, good films and great sex; they are beautiful; and most of all, they are irritatingly likeable. Everyone knows a couple like them, and White and Manteghi’s idiosyncrasies and interjections are perfectly pitched. But here’s where our leading man and lady go beyond all expectations: we actually fall in love with them too. We see their love and we love them with fire-like intensity. But as with any fire, soon the sparks begin to fly.
Todd and Kali are falling apart. Because of all the expectation surrounding their perfect life, they are plagued by the fear of being hurt by each other and the idea of losing everything. So they hold each other even tighter, pushing the air out of their lungs. They look for excuses to fight to try and prove their fears are rational. They fill their lives with meals and holidays to block out the emptiness induced by trustless love. Their mutual dependency is beautiful and frightening, a destructive tendency dressed up as a survival instinct.
It’s a real testament to White and Manteghi that I find it nearly impossible to write about them individually: their performances are utterly inseparable. I couldn’t say this about the Frantic Assembly production. I also couldn’t say that the Frantic Assembly performance made me cry. And this is where Stockholm makes me take back what I said about hating all promenade performances: standing with White and Manteghi in the house that love built, and watching the horrifyingly well-timed violence play out, I could barely breathe in case I yelped in distress. They had welcomed us into their home, let us into their lives and shown us around a love that is burning itself out. The sheer energy and versatility of the performers is utterly exceptional: they rage for each other; they love and tear, they crash and burn. And being in the middle of it is not just unbearable, but an electrifying theatrical experience.
White and Manteghi are a formidable team, and their storytelling is terrifyingly believable. Chris White’s portrayal of Todd as a contradiction of strength and weakness is a tour de force, while the delicate and poisonous fear that Serena Manteghi brings to Kali is heartbreaking. The choreography of their violence and their dances (often alarmingly similar) is superb, the technical cues are flawless and the set is brilliantly inventive. There are so many things I could say to praise this extraordinary production, but essentially the primary aim of my review is simply to tell you to see it or miss the best production in the Barn this term by a long way. Like Todd and Kali, White and Manteghi could easily have found themselves crushed by the crippling weight of expectation. But they left me an emotional wreck. And if that’s not the mark of a phenomenal performance, I don’t know what is.