Suzy Storck – Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Reviewer: Marian Lovett

Writer: Magali Mougel

Translator: Chris Campbell

Director: Ursula McGinn

Geography, the narrator says, is irrelevant. This is a story that could take place anywhere, is now, maybe taking place somewhere. But there are particularities which are communicated at the outset, such as the time: it is evening, ‘an evening when the setting sun never actually sets’ and events take place between 8.54 and 9.54 pm. The weather is hot and airless, the location is a small house with an untidy garden and washing hanging on the line. We don’t see walls but we imagine a kitchen where Suzy Storck is sitting at an open window close to some nearly empty bottles. There is background noise, a radio buzzing and off stage, the sound of children ‘jiggling something metal in the lock’. We are told by Suzy that the children ‘may be panicking’ as she herself has locked them in a room upstairs. Is it for their safety, or their mother’s sanity? Has something happened or is it about to happen?

Suzy’s partner Hans Vassily has left, suddenly, but we’re not told why. The tension escalates with banging and a loud angry voice demanding that Suzy must OPEN THE DOOR. Enter Madame Storck played by Gene Rooney, her distaste for her daughter is evident; ‘I’m ashamed of you Suzy’. The haranguing continues until Madame delivers her daughter a last slap before leaving. Abuse probably began early in Suzy Storcks’ life but, what has happened this time to provoke such wrath?

Five minutes in and we, the audience, are invested, as much in the chaos and disarray as in really wanting to find out where all this is headed. Even in translation, French writer Magali Mougel’s incisive writing propels us forward. The pace is swift as the action veers back and forth in time and it takes us a while to grasp the assertion that this all arises from Suzy’s ‘failure’, her ‘unfortunate failure of her desire to not fulfill her conjugal duty’, her ‘failure to refuse certain obligations’. Given what she’s up against it seems a bit unfair to pin all of this on Suzy, but Mougel is surely making the point that it’s not unusual that the woman blames herself, this is, afterall, what society and people expect.

Suzy, played with verve and conviction by Alexandra Conlon, is unravelling. Clearly she is unhappy with her mother, her husband, the dog and her current situation, clearly her children are driving her over the edge. As the story unfolds we find out she did once have hopes and ambitions. ‘I could have been a nurse, a seamstress’. Instead she ‘went into poultry’. The economic context of small town France doesn’t offer many options to women like Suzy.

In the chicken factory she meets Hans Vassily. Hans’ oppressive presence is credibly portrayed by actor Kristian Phillips, his large physique lends itself to this part and he knows how to convey the nit picking, the put downs and abuse that wear a woman down. He quickly imposes on Suzy his wants and desires. ‘I want to kiss you Suzy, I want to feel your tongue slide in my mouth’ is how he elegantly articulates his first romantic overture. She goes along with things. ‘We kissed, we moved in together’. Suzy tells herself that Hans’ routine approach to sex, his ‘weekly prodding’ won’t make any great difference in her life. But, before she knows it, she has become a mother of three with cracked nipples and aching breasts who ‘does what needs to be done … so everything’s working’, she is the mother/automaton whose arm goes ‘up to turn on the coffee machine … up goes my arm to slap one of my three children, Up it goes ’to hang up the empty laundry basket…. ‘to put the dummy in the baby’s mouth’…

That she never wanted any of this is made most apparent in the interview, possibly the most comic scene in the play. The shop owner (played by Jeanne Nicole Ní Áinle, who also plays the narrator) interviews Suzy for a job in a mother and baby boutique. She trots out the most typical but inane interview questions (‘did you have to overcome any obstacles in your previous position?’) to which Suzy candidly responds. Even her honest responses are overruled by others. ‘You can’t say you don’t want children, just to get a job’ Hans Vassily interrupts furiously. But she has said this terrible thing and not to land the job … Later, when she frankly admits that sometimes she thinks of shooting the children, whom she is sure she does not love, she is articulating an awful truth, one that may be real for many women but which society dismisses and ignores.

And of course there will be consequences when women go unheard. Suzy seems unaware of the first tragedy, as if something has happened that she can’t quite remember. The second, on which the play dramatically concludes, is shocking but not completely unexpected. In seventy five minutes of intense theatre the director Ursula McGinn has done justice to Mougel’s fierce and unrelenting take on family and motherhood, presenting an ordinary, very believable scenario via ordinary, believable and immensely well drawn characters.

Sometimes I wished that Conlon as Suzy might have appeared a little more grubby or dishevelled, to match her inner turmoil or that the stage set might have displayed more mess and disarray. These minor irritations aside, Suzy Storck is a powerful contemporary play that resonates and provokes.

Ran Until 13th April 2024.

The Review's Hub Score

bleak, intense, unsettling

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The Reviews Hub - Ireland

The Ireland team is currently under the editorship of Laura Marriott. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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