The audiences find their seats around the stage in a square setting: A playground set in a forest. It suggests freedom and relaxation, but something feels limiting and oppressive. The lighting is hot. It is a summer day. Toys of all kinds are spread on the floor. Chaos. The living room where the play is set is dressed up, a forest as camouflage. It is the house which constraints the freedom. Suzy Storck (Caoilfhionn Dunne) is waiting for her husband Hans Vassily (Jonah Russell) to come home again. She is huddled together, appearing lifeless while she sits on the table, then facing the window. The radio plays music. The children are locked up in their room upstairs. Something is about to happen. Everything is falling together.
This is the unsettling beginning of Suzy Storck, a new play written by Magali Mougel and directed by Jean-Pierre Baro in his UK debut production. The immersive setting is inviting the audience into Suzy’s world, into her mind. The play unfolds multi-layered, shifting between inside and outside portrayal. It is the story of a woman, Suzy Storck, who is trapped in her life in routine and silence. Her life is narrated by others, physically embodied by a chorus and her husband. The chorus are a woman (Kate Duchene) and a man (Theo Solomon) who comment, explain, justify, give instructions and embody characters. They are in Suzy’s mind talking directly to the audience as sense-making strategy. Together with the audience they travel back in time to understand what caused the present moment of anticipation, defeat and stagnation in Suzy’s life.
The flashback presents Suzy’s life in fragments. Hans and she work together, they kiss, move in together and become three children. She is like a leaf in the wind, but the wind is in charge. Suzy Storck is about a woman who never had agency over her life and life just happened. Suzy lines up in the mechanical procedure of life, an automatism she never chose yet taking over her life. She steps out of herself and her repetitive mantra “my heart is a clock” suggests a chronology of life and self-alienation without any purpose but functioning. In retrospect Suzy’s life is perceived from the outside in order to make sense of it and to take back control. This self-reflection maintains the structure of the play in streams of consciousness: observation, comments and fragmentation.
The self-reflection underlines the immersion of the audience in the play. They are given the role of an active perceiver to combine the presented fragments of the story. They are addressed and surround the action scene. The audience are witnesses of a woman vegetating alive in the ‘cage’ of her home dealing with a mental breakdown caused by the burdens of the everyday life. Suzy Storck appears as a crime case and as a mirror which reflects life and its limitations, stagnation and loneliness.
The playfulness of the chorus transforms the story from heaviness into moments full of lightness. The humour is bitter but offering a way to cope with the unfolding life story. The audience is immersed into Susy’s reality despite the self-reflexivity of the Brechtian theatre method. The performance is convincing and authentic. Especially Dunne convinces brilliantly in her embodiment of Suzy Storck who is trapped inside her life and mastering the shifts between outside and inside narrative. Duchene also changes effortless between roles in the story and narrator, so that the audience is never left behind, but always part of the layers and shifts the play unfolds.
Suzy Storck guides the audience through a juxtaposition of impressions and experiences starting and ending with the peak of Suzy’s life. It is repeated, commented and edited through the process of remembering embodied by the chorus. Mougel created a story about taking over the narration of the own life story.
Multi-layered, inventive and highly immersive theatre which is convincing within every detail and especially concerned about the audience as active perceiver. It is definitely worth to experience the promising debut of director Baro.
Suzy Storck is playing at Gate Theatre until 18th of November. For more information and tickets, see www.gatetheatre.co.uk/events/all-productions/suzy_storck