Act and Terminal 3
The Print Room at The Coronet
Until June 30th
Lars Noren is a Swedish writer who doesn’t have the kind of name recognition in the United Kingdom as he does on the mainland. He’s been heralded as the heir of Strindberg, a phrase that makes him sound like a character out of Game of Thrones, but based on the two short plays Act and Terminal 3 currently pulling a double bill at The Coronet, the roots of his family tree also plunge deeply into Beckett and Pinter. Both of the short plays (neither is over an hour) bristle with elliptical conversations, casual but darkly strobing with unspecified menace.
Act, the first of the pair, is the most indebted to those two British playwrights; ostensibly about the medical ‘treatment’ of an imprisoned woman who might be a terrorist by a Hawaiian shirted prison doctor, it swiftly becomes clear that nothing about the setting can be trusted. What at first seems a typically adversarial psychological conflict between captor and captive derails into the uncanny as both characters become unsure of their own lives and stories, contradicting themselves and each other, as reality seems to buckle and twist. Of the two Barnaby Power’s loquacious doctor steals the show with a performance that wheels between threat, self-pity, humour and mystery like a deranged compass. Irritatingly the plays successes are undercut by the decision to decorate the stage with a Trumpian Make America Great Again hat, a cheap stab at immediate relevancy that the play didn’t need. It actually works distractingly against the plays best interests, with Power’s broad Southern twang compounding the issue with a didacticism that smothers rather than informs the narrative. Noren’s original was set in post-war Germany with some direct references to the Bader Meinhof gang and one wonders whether director Anthony Nielson should have stuck with the original text and left the parallels to the Post-Truth 21st century implied. That being said the sense of confusion that curls obliquely around Act is one of the play’s strongest assets; it’s expertly developed by strong performances from both Power and Temi Wilkey, but sadly there’s just too little for the audience to get their teeth into for Act to offer more than ephemeral pleasures.
The second play Terminal 3 works far better: two couples, young and old, sit on either side of a white plastic wall, one of the women pregnant, the other fraught. The same mystery as to the setting and character relationships remain from Act, but they slowly unfurl into full and terrible meaning. Terminal 3 is peppered through with welcome humour, particularly from Robert Stocks as the man in the younger couple whose city boy boorishness provides necessary levity in a play that plunges into dark, purgatorial but deeply human territory. The pouring dry ice that accompanies the revolving white wall is about the limit of the stripped back staging but both add an otherworldly surrealism to the proceedings. The striking environs of the Coronet’s beaten grandeur more than provides the atmosphere for this skeletal staging to flourish, but admittedly it could probably do the same for a live staging of Love Island. Both plays are a worthy demonstration of Noren’s talents and deserving of a visit for any theatre-goers unfamiliar with his work.