Touring; seen at The Junction, Cambridge
10 October, 2007

Kali and Todd are young, smart in both senses, have great sex (twice onstage in the course of 70 minutes) and are about to take a break in Stockholm. However, they already inhabit the syndrome named after that city, whereby a hostage forms an attachment to their captor and perhaps tormentor. Here, although there are hints that Todd is often quite peremptory, he is principally the victim of Kali's pathological, violent jealousy, which erupts into a domestic battle in the kitchen in front of a long row of magnetised knives on the back wall. What follows is not simply make-up sex: Todd explains that Kali's deep remorse is in fact irresistibly attractive.

Writer Bryony Lavery is adept at finely honed lines, but I find her work less compelling the more palpable is her earnest engagement with a capital-I Issue, and in this case it grows increasingly palpable through the second half of the piece. Having the characters narrate about themselves in the third person whilst acting events out in the first and second can be nicely disconcerting, but the climactic duet in which they forecast possible, fatal futures for the couple stops being chilling after a few seconds and becomes a matter of simply hammering the point home.

Moreover, this is a Bryony Lavery play only second; first and foremost it is a Frantic Assembly show. When I reviewed the otherwise thoroughly impressive Black Watch last year I remarked that the Frantics' brand of physical theatre had long ceased to be innovative, and has now largely passed even from reassuring reliability into tired cliché. This production does nothing to sway me from that view. When fighting and loveplay are portrayed with the same narrow physical vocabulary of crawling over a multi-dimensional set and throwing one another over their shoulders, it might be drawing an intentional comparison between these two passions; but when the comparison broadens to several preceding productions – all of which seem to entail young people uncovering a dark side, with periodic jigging about – it is revealed as tediously formulaic. The performance I saw in Cambridge was to an audience almost entirely of school and college groups, whose first exposure to such a performance style this may be; unless the Frantics raise their game, the novelty even for these newbies will wear very thin very quickly.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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