You know the sort: those annoying couples who just seem to have it all. Smart, chic, sexy and so in lurve. Well hold on, everything might not be right as rain. Especially in Stockholm.
Far from being a dirty weekend in Sweden with Julian Assange, Bryony Lavery's dark two-hander about the truth behind perfect couples sticks the knife into the appearance of harmony and then twists it a little.
When Stockholm takes to the Red Stitch stage for its Victorian debut this week, the gloves will most certainly be off. Lavery's intense tale of co-dependent meltdown combines dialogue, direct address and elements of dance, pitching dream team Todd and Kali into a birthday maelstrom.
For Luisa Hastings Edge, who plays Kali, Stockholm is a more than usually challenging piece of contemporary theatre. “It's a tricky one,” she coolly observes. “The content is challenging because it's pretty raw and intense and violent. There's game playing, manipulation, co-dependence. It's pretty unhealthy at the best of times, so there's this huge emotional journey for both the characters.”
Set in Todd and Kali's groovily appointed pad, Stockholm takes place on the former's birthday as the couple prepare for a much anticipated Swedish getaway. But they never get there; at least not in this play. “It charts just one day for this couple,” Hastings Edge reveals. “They're pretty close to killing each other but they haven't murdered the children. Yet.”
The question here is one we have probably all asked at some point: why am I still in this? Lavery's frequently brutal drama cuts hard into the cycles of co-dependence that keep many couples together. Her deliberate referencing of the so-called Stockholm Syndrome (in which hostages feel sympathy for their captors) underlines the play's investigation of dysfunctional domesticity.
However, as Luisa Hastings Edge notes, “They're absolutely in love with each other. It's like, you have the fight and then you have the make-up sex. The more intense the fights are the better the make-up is. It's that kinda horrible cycle.”
Not satisfied with being a straight relationship drama, Stockholm is also a very physical piece. During the development phase Bryony Lavery worked with a UK-based dance theatre company and here in Melbourne director Tanya Gerstle has added her own layer of movement. “It's not a dance piece but is quite physical,” Hastings Edge points out, “It's a physical but almost abstract way of working.”
The play also breaks the fourth wall by having Todd and Kali directly address the audience, much as reality TV likes its lab rats to do. “Obviously when you are doing direct address there is a confessional side to it,” Hastings Edge admits, “but I guess it sorta feels in this show more like those people who, y'know, talk about how good things are all the time but they go on a little bit much and you think, 'is it really that good?'”
If there is one thing for sure about Stockholm, it's that audiences will relate. Luisa Hastings Edge sums it up simply, “Relationships are so much to do with role playing. You're acting the child, the mother, the father, the daughter and you're projecting all these things onto the other person in your life in a really intense way. Everyone does it but to what degree?”