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REVIEW: Stockholm at Playbox Theatre

Grace Martin and Lynton Appleton in Stockholm. Photo: Will Dolan
Grace Martin and Lynton Appleton in Stockholm. Photo: Will Dolan

Steve Sutherland reviews Stockholm, at Playbox Theatre, Warwick, 27th April 2017

IT all kicks off over fennel. He says he needs to nip out to the shops and get some to complete the fish dish he’s preparing for the perfect birthday meal in. She suspects it’s a sly excuse to sneak to a payphone and call someone, probably a lover, as she’s commandeered his mobile.

Welcome — though that’s far from the right word — to Stockholm, playwright Bryony Lavery’s two-hander named after the destination the lovey-dovey couple are about to visit on a celebratory break, and, more ominously, the syndrome wherein a victim falls in love with their captor.

He is Todd, played by Lynton Appleton, cocky, jittery, weak, domineering and frustrated, cut off from his pals and his past life by Kali, played by Grace Martin, vivacious, clingy, needy, unstable. They were both obviously made for each other, very much in love and yet what they achieve together is toxic and destructive.

As their dream life unravels into jealousy and spite, each room within the Ikea catalogue dream home they’ve built together gradually comes to symbolise the prison they’re constructing in a cycle of their own devising. Testing each other’s devotion, goading each other’s frailties, needling each other until both reach breaking point and they beat the crap out of one another, the violence perversely comes as almost a relief as they get off on the sexual reunion that arrives with remorse.

This whole sorry, scary drama is played out in the claustrophobic round on a bare stage, director Emily Quash’s genius decision to have each room chalked out by the couple as we go along not only symbolising how they are boxing each other in but also drawing us into the trap, forcing us to imagine each tense domestic encounter being played out in our very own homes.

It’s impossible to overstate the emotional chemistry achieved between the two actors, by turns icky, funny, uncomfortable, painful and, ultimately, unbearable. So intense is their relationship that we completely forget we’re watching a play, sucked in by its creeping tension and sheer physicality. At one point Lynton/Todd punches a clock and for real smashes his hand, blood dripping onto the stage as Grace/Kali laughs in his face. They make us feel like dirty voyeurs, watching something that should remain private, yet almost guilty that we don’t intervene. It’s a performance by both worthy of the standing ovation at the end.

The most harrowing scene of all — and that’s really saying something — occurs in the basement with the chains, Kali/Grace and Todd/Lynton both incandescent with panic and sorrow over the fate of their children who appear to die with their mum. It’s a cruel and blurry scenario, she’s trapped them with her in a car filling up with exhaust fumes. They’re on the phone, begging their dad to return. She’s intent on a revenge suicide, a punishment for him leaving.

It’s unclear whether this has happened, will happen, or might happen and the audience is left seeking the solace in closure that never arrives.

Indeed, a quick peek at Facebook and other social media outlets in the 24, 36, even 48 hours after the performance reveals audience members still a bit shaky and suffering nightmares. This is not a play that lets you go.

The next Playbox production is Life Raft, where 13 kids are adrift on the ocean with nothing left to eat. Help!

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