“He likes her intensity.
‘She likes that he likes her intensity; it’s something she’s been working on.’”
The Network Theatre occupies another one of the seemingly endless railway arches in the Waterloo area that have been converted into performance spaces and is currently playing host to 3P Entertainment’s debut production of Bryony Lavery’s 2007 play Stockholm. A two-hander about the potentially destructive power of a passionate relationship, directed here by Bronwen Carr, this marks the first time this show has returned to London since the original run at the Hampstead Theatre.
At first sight, Todd and Kali’s relationship seems picture-perfect. They have a great sex life, a dream apartment, sneaky afternoon trips to the cinema to see Ingmar Bergman films and they just ooze intimacy and chemistry wrapped up in their own world. But such insularity comes at a price and whilst the dark clouds that start to show themselves are initially amusing – Todd’s anxiety manifests itself with a preoccupation with interior design even whilst receiving oral sex from Kali – the way in which her jealousy threatens to spiral out of all control indicates that things are evidently much darker and more serious.
The couple are about to take a trip to the Swedish capital to continue Todd’s birthday celebrations and there’s lots of Scandinavian references and goofing around with funny accents but we soon come to see that the title also refers to the psychological syndrome of the same name in the messy co-dependence of their relationship and the ways in which they each hold the other hostage. Gabby Wong’s viciously manipulative and paranoid Kali is the more obviously insecure half, it is her actions that force the emotional climaxes but Paul Sockett’s Todd is equally watchable, working out his frustrations in other ways, like making dinner most forcefully and their post-fight scene was a genuinely moving moment of contrition and realisation of the self-destructiveness of their behaviour.
Movement Director Meline Danielewicz has worked extremely well in aiding Sockett and Wong to negotiate choreography that ranges from comedic disco routines and the faux ninja-stylings of putting the shopping away, the romantic interludes and sexual shenanigans of an intensely physically connected couple to the almost balletic violence that spills over when passion gets misdirected. This physicality is what really pushes the play along and from where the portrayal of this frighteningly convincing relationship gains its strength. There were nice touches of video and lighting work from Simeon Miller too, but Nick Hutson’s sound design was unforgivably muddy, obscuring the additional insights given and the fascinating revelations that came from a flash-forward towards the end.
Lavery’s writing is both incredibly sharp and densely ambiguous: the audience is often made to work hard as characters flip between first and third person narratives, the voiceovers adding another layer of uncertainty as information comes to us fitfully, demonstrating just how much this couple is cutting themselves off from the loved ones and world around them into a prison of their own making. And this production succeeds for the most part in creating the intense, unsettling atmosphere to allow this story to play out whilst remaining watchable.