Southwark Playhouse, London (****)

Stallerhof (Southwark Playhouse, London) – Carole Woddis

**** (four stars)

Last week Glasgow was chosen as one of the UK’s cultural must-sees. London didn’t get a look-in but for any theatre buff considering coming south for a quick New Year fix, you could do worse than land at Waterloo and walk along the south bank to London Bridge.

Between those two points, the theatregoer will find just about anything to satisfy the palate from flagship `culture’ at the National Theatre to the unsubsidised, punching way above their weight converted chocolate factory that is Meniers.

And in between them stands the remarkable Southwark Playhouse – a tiny courtyard of a premises which last week treated returning audiences and theatre critics satiated with yule log and good cheer, to a furious counterblast of ascetic minimalism.

In the same theatre that three years ago brought us a muscular account of Through the Leaves’ with Ann Mitchell as a Medea-like German offal worker yearning for love from Simon Callow’s callous construction worker, Maria Aberg’s subtle, tender production of Franz Xaver Kroetz’s 1972 but suddenly topical Stallerhof is as impressive.

Another savage tale of modern teutonic desolation, the scene this time is a farm. Once again, language is at a premium. Beppi, slow, almost illiterate – played with blazing innocence by newcomer Matti Houghton (recently seen in Mikey the Pikey at Edinburgh Pleasance) – is at the mercy of her disgruntled, disappointed parents (the granite-like Michael Gunn and Alwyne Taylor). Sepp (Roger Ringrose) appears to take pity, beguile her with stories. But pleasure is short-lived and complicated. Impregnation and bloody parental revenge follow with a surprising final nod to hope.

It could all border on stereotype but Aberg’s restraint ensures a crucifying climax. Kroetz’s account of abuse and power relations proves almost unbearably resonant.

Stallerhof runs at the Southwark Playhouse to Jan 21, 2006

Review first published in The Herald , January, 2006