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Socrates Otto and Leeanna Walsman in Stockholm.

Photography by Brett Boardman.

POSTED: 22 MARCH 2010

Stockholm, by Bryony Lavery

Sydney Theatre Company | Wharf 1, Walsh Bay, Sydney | Until 24 April

Stockholm syndrome: a seemingly unfathomable phenomenon in which the victim of some type of cruelty or abuse ends up bonding with their perpetrator.

To the outsider, such a bond is most likely to seem irrational, absurd. To a friend or loved one watching on as a wife stays with an abusive husband, or a victim of crime refuses to testify against their assailant, feelings such as anger, frustration and despair butt up against confusion.

Stockholm pulls its audience through just such an emotional maelstrom. You don’t just watch this production; you truly do “experience” it. In addition to playwright Bryony Lavery’s powerful words, Stockholm is a sensual abundance of sight, sound ... even smell. It’s also a bit tactile if your seats are close to the front.

The aptly named physical theatre company, Frantic Assembly, with co-directors/choreographers Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, have brought this production to an Australian audience after, as they say, touching “hearts and raw nerves in equal measures” in the United Kingdom.

Todd (Socrates Otto) and Kali (Leeanna Walsman) are celebrating. Ensconced in their designer kitchen, all smooth lines and Smeg appliances, they rejoice in Todd’s birthday, their imminent trip to Stockholm, and superior love.

By turn self-satisfied and charming, Todd and Kali coo at each other in “Ikean”, move in synchrony and convince themselves that theirs is the perfect life.

But as Todd prepares the birthday dinner, the darker aspects of their relationship emerge. This beautiful couple have an ugly side.

Spoken in the third person, an element of detachment is established that makes bursts of emotion and fierce passion even more shocking.

As Todd and Kali literally and figuratively dance around one another, time shifts.  Taken back to their first meeting, an astonishing scene evolves as the couple “devour” each other: without a word it encapsulates the all-consuming fervour of new love and physical desire.

Throughout, there are moments that perfectly clarify character and motivation. Any assumptions formed about Todd and Kali are swiftly shattered. The startling use of light and sound at these times is just brilliant. Todd’s confession about Kali’s remorse is particularly telling, and speaks volumes about why this couple remain together despite their dysfunction.

Otto and Walsman quite literally throw themselves into their roles. That they are not bruised from head to toe is astounding, such is the speed, brutality and sheer physicality required of them.

Laura Hopkins’ set is a masterpiece. Nothing is what it seems. The bed, with the couple perched precariously as if on a cliff’s edge, is especially stunning, once one gets over the curiosity and fear of whether the actors may topple several metres to the ground.

My only issue — and it’s a good one, really — is that so much happens, and that the show begs a second viewing in order to fully appreciate its complexity.

Stockholm is a potent example of the beauty and perversion of love. Strongly recommended ... but definitely not as a first date.

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