Gate Theatre, Notting Hill, London ****
Some of the most viscerally shattering productions I’ve seen in recent years have turned up at the tiny Gate Theatre, Notting Hill. Magali Mougel’s Suzy Storck is no exception.
Names new to British audiences from across the Channel, Mougel and director Jean-Pierre Baro represent, happily, a continuing desire on the part of British artists to keep looking outwards and linking to Europe.
But Suzy Storck by any standards is a gruelling 75 mins.
In a domestic setting that kept reminding me of two previous powerfully claustrophobic Gate pieces – Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks’s Medea presented by Sydney’s influential Belvoir Theatre and Nina Segal’s apocalyptic two-hander, In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises) – we’re in the kitchen of a working class couple.
Caollfhionn Dunne – one of the most emotionally searing actors working today (The Nest at the Young Vic, Wild at Hampstead and The Night Alive at the Donmar Warehouse) sits at a table, glass in hand, in skimpy t-shirt and flimsy shorts. Light shines on her naked shoulders translucent in its vulnerability.
This is a woman at bay and as Theo Solomon’s Chorus intones `This is how the story starts. It starts here. It happens here. Right here,’ the sense of dread is as palpable as Mougel’s writing is spare but piercing and brilliantly caught in Chris Campbell’s distilled, plangent translation.
Set somewhere in south west rural France – there are references to the Pyrenees – the descriptions Mougel gives Dunne’s Suzy Storck are peppered with agricultural slaughter.
This is not a play for the vegetarian squeamish or, if you weren’t vegetarian before you came in, you might very well be after you left, so drenched are Suzy’s images in the bloody actuality of farming life.
But then again, heterosexual couples would do well to take a deep breath as Suzy begins to describe, as part of the rewind back-flash, her sense of the conjugal act, of penetration. No wonder I glimpsed several male spectators staring at the floor at one point, perhaps wishing Mougel and Suzy’s description of intercourse was less graphic in its detail.
Suzy Storck (the name itself is a bitter pun on its theme) is about despair, loss of control and of life’s potential – a wild, angry feminist plea about the assumption that all women should want to be mothers and have children, willy-nilly!
Suzy doesn’t want – but slides into it with Hans Vasilly, a fellow worker in a chicken factory who once they’re together gradually takes every opportunity – aka Rob in The Archers – to demean and mentally reduce her.
There is certainly something here of German writer, Franz Xaver Kroetz’s The Nest in its working class realism. Extraordinarily topical, Jonah Russell’s performance as Hans Vasilly also taps into today’s headline about domestic mental abuse.
But what lifts it above anything approaching soap opera is the intensity of Mougel’s neo-naturalism and the stylisation of Jean-Pierre Baro’s production that draws us in, literally and keeps tightening the grip on our emotions. Dunne plumbs the very depths of mental and physical anguish as a woman trying to meet the demands of being a mother of three, wife to Hans Vasilly and daughter to Kate Duchêne’s enraged mum.
Segal’s In the Night (Before the Sun Rises) charted a couple cracking under child-rearing pressure (a screaming baby) and our planet’s suicidal mission. Suzy too is brought to collapse by a crying baby but in an environment of piercing sunlight, where the sun never sets. Harsh, unforgiving, like Camus’s Meursault in L’Etranger nature and nurture combine here to a catastrophic conclusion.
Harrowing but superb.
A new play by Magali Mougel
Translated by Chris Campbell
Chorus: Kate Duchene
Suzy Storck: Caollfhionn Dunne
Hans Vasilly Kruez: Jonah Russell
Chorus: Theo Solomon
Director: Jean-Pierre Baro
Designer: Cécile Trémolières
Lighting Designer: Christopher Nairne
Sound Designer: Adrien Wernert
Assistant Director: Ben Hadley
Design Assistant: Natalie Pryce
British premiere of Suzy Storck at Gate, Notting Hill, London Oct 26, 2017. Runs to Nov 18, 2017.
Review published on this site, Nov 2, 2017