Writer and Director: Vilma Kitula
Centred around two women struggling to survive in a workers’ cult in Northern Europe, this 60-minute production from female-led theatre company Sisu portrays the fracture that takes place when an unwanted visitor enters their home and brings to light the truth of their dire situation. Beginning with the tweeting of birds against a domestic backdrop of washing hanging on a line across the length of the stage, a billowy cow puppet is led in, completing the picture of a pastoral paradise. But it’s an idyllic facade that doesn’t last long.
The women wear traditional clothing and sing folk songs, spattering their talk with words from their mother tongue, but there is the deeply unsettling atmosphere of a tradition transformed into a totalitarian new order. Periodically, a siren sounds and the characters must put on their widest smiles as they dance to the credo of a creepy disembodied voice.
A third character (if you don’t count the cows) is introduced in the form of a burglar who breaks in during the night, waking one of the women, who placates the intruder with the offer of joining her for a smoke. An intriguing dynamic is created. The burglar is just trying to make a living like everyone else. References to “benefits of the job” bring levity to a mostly sinister story.
The script, written by Vilma Kitula, who also plays one of the main roles, is ambitious, demanding intense emotional highs and lows from the actors, with the subject matter leaning in some dark directions, taking in trauma, repression, physical violence and modern slavery. It’s formally experimental, making use of dream sequences and soliloquies to express the themes roiling under the surface of the characters’ increasingly unhinged personalities.
As an attempt at creating drama that exists in an imagined world where the rules are different but familiar, where our own struggles are reflected and magnified, it’s mostly successful, though it overstretches in places. The more slapstick fight choreography misses the mark slightly and the directly dramatic set pieces are more effective than the parts that aim for lyrical profundity.
The shockingly real violence of the play’s climax is a high point, however, and the developing dynamic between the three women is full of dramatic potential. Indeed, it felt like the play could have gone on for longer, especially considering the dystopian richness of the world Kitula has created here.
Runs until 6 August 2022