All things Scandinavian seem to be quite ‘in’ at the moment: Swedish crime drama is all the rage and there was a Woman’s Hour feature last week about how Nordic cuisine is currently the most fashionable in the world. In the Orange Tree Theatre’s latest production, Swedish playwright Lars Norén is given a rare English-language outing with this angsty and shrill family drama directed by Derek Goldby and translated by Gunilla Anderman.
Norén’s writing and emphasis on domesticity are somewhat reminiscent of the nervous hysteria found in Alan Ayckbourn (of whom I’m not a fan) and Mike Leigh’s mixture of character driven humour and gloom. This slice of middle class misery takes place after the two adult daughters drop in on their parents for a family dinner and all kinds of resentments are brought to the fore. The premise is perfect for the Orange Tree, where the audience is gathered around the perimeters of the living room (designed by Sam Dowson – the uncomfortable-looking sofa is a fitting touch), but it is let down by the clunky writing, with a sense of the characters competing as to who can be the most miserable and ‘issues’ being ticked off as if on a shopping list; abortion, divorce, eating disorders, etc.
The main perpetrator of the misery is the dungaree-clad Ann, a down-on-her-luck single parent obsessed with her supposedly horrible childhood, who blames all her misfortunes on her mother. In contrast, her elder sister, Ewa, is a linen-suited, French-pleated and frightfully smug corporate high flier, who chimes in with the cracks in her seemingly ideal life, and Mum follows suit by blaming her husband for everything. Everybody is keen to have their say but no one is willing to listen, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the same points go around in circles and no one reaches any kind of understanding by the end.
Lisa Stevenson, in the showiest role, is at times ferociously volatile as the ever hard-done-by Ann and Kristin Hutchinson is perfectly pinched as overachiever Ewa. Diane Fletcher’s Mum is harder to pin down, presenting an icily detached façade, but gradually reveals herself to be just as much of a drama queen as Ann. If Osmund Bullock (splendid in The Thunderbolt) as Dad spends much of the show blending in with the furniture, it isn’t really his fault as his ineffectual character has so little to do.
With six bottles of wine imbibed by the end of the evening, plus various nightcaps of port, whisky and brandy, it’s remarkable that anyone can string a sentence together – and no one bats an eyelid at Ewa driving Ann home. Ultimately, a fairly aimless wallow in Nordic angst.
Autumn and Winter is playing at the Orange Tree Theatre until 28th May. For more information and tickets see the website here.
Autumn and Winter plays at the Orange Tree Theatre until May 28th.