Lars Noren is considered one of Sweden’s greatest living playwrights, but he’s relatively unfamiliar to UK audiences. Surprising, really, because his work squirms squarely under the influence of two of our most celebrated dramatists.
Both of the short plays in director Anthony Neilson’s double-bill are disconcerting and dangerous. They’ve got the abstracted existentialism of Beckett, the needling menace of Pinter, and a rhythmic, musical dialogue.
The two plays are adapted by Noren’s long-term translator Marita Lindholm Gochman, but the first – Act – has been rejigged by Neilson, who’s shifted the action from post-war Germany to a dystopian US. A two-hander, it sees a grubby Texan doctor (a wonderfully wheedling Barnaby Power) slyly interrogate a hospital-gowned prisoner (Temi Wilkey).
It’s never clear who or where they are, or what’s happened – something about her being a terrorist, about a civil war – and although their weighted chatter zips stylishly back and forth, it’s impossible not to let that contextless frustration cloud whatever point Noren is making.
The second – Terminal 3 – is far more stimulating, not least because of Laura Hopkins’ stunning design. A giant rotating screen, shafts of slanting colours, and a stage smothered in dry ice.
Two couples (Power, Wilkey, Robert Stocks and Hannah Young – all great) wait in the same hospital foyer, one to have a baby, the other to identify a body. It’s painful, almost purgatorial to watch, and it’s supposed to be. Like Pinter before him, Noren twists language into ugly, unfamiliar shapes. Not exactly enjoyable or enlightening, but an intense experience nonetheless.