M (Temi Wilkey) is a prisoner, arrested on suspicion of terrorism. She sits, curled in a metal chair, with blood seeping through the bandages wrapped around her forearms. G (Barnaby Power), is a physician. His thick Texan accent cuts across M’s more cosmopolitan drawl as he assesses the state of her health – an examination ordered on account of a hunger strike. She hasn’t eaten for five days.
Both are riddled with unease. They live within the shadow of a second Civil War, a near-future America threatened by social and political unrest. G’s office is littered with ghosts – memories attached to a less complicated age. The shell of a barbecue is painted with dust, and cartons of Marlboro Red jostle against crates of Coca Cola, their packaging glowing feverishly. Stars and stripes hang limp in the airless prison, a space that refuses to carry sound and where the lights are never turned off. LED panels ambush M, the electricity buzzing like aphids swarming a rotten fruit. This is Act, the first in a double-bill of plays by Lars Norén.
Act presents a world full of comforting and clinical textures. It is a system disorientated by violence, with an Orwellian command of history and truth. The piece is intriguing, and keeps its audience on their toes by constantly questioning the boundaries between fact and fiction. Where one starts and the other ends is unclear, but that half-knowledge is what makes the experience all the more sinister.
Terminal 3, the second production of the evening, is announced by a gust of dry ice. It hangs in the air like an ethereal creature, carbon dioxide shrouding a large gauze screen that splits the stage in two. The floor appears lacquered in the cold blue light, its surface glistening and dangerous. It feels strange. This world is empty, and saturated with shadows. Flowers spill from a basket, and a man and his pregnant wife (Robert Stocks and Wilkey) crush petals underfoot, both mottled with the anticipation of labour. Divided by the screen, a second couple emerge (Power and Hannah Young), their faces made stark by candlelight. Their son has been found dead, and they are here to identify the body.
Pews run along the edges of both sections, fishing the idea of religion from a sea of existential angst. A throbbing sound quickens, creating friction as adrenaline passes through the performers. The juxtaposition of life and death is chilling – particularly in the physical pain of having a child and then the agony of losing one. Cigar smoke burns the air, its earthy perfume following the action as darkness begins to fall. Two by two, the actors walk, pushing the gauze so it swings round, spinning on its axis – which at times seems contrived, and somewhat clumsy. It detracts from the feel of the piece, but its conclusion is no less effective. The event in itself is an enigma, and its layers of mystery and dark humour are a delight worth experiencing.
Act and Terminal 3 are on until 30 June 2018 at the Print Room. Click here for more details.