FJORDS, FATALITY, FRAGMENTATION
The young man lies on the settle thinking about his dog. It’s run off. His mother, stiffly repetitive between pauses, tells him he’s a grown man and should go and look for it. He doesn’t. She also wishes he’d go to the shop for some coffee because his sister and husband are coming. He doesn’t do that either. So she goes. There’s white empty sky over the fjord. and a lot of silence and no dog. It’s a Beckettian silence. Waiting for Doggo….
Perish the thought: there is no place for such frivolous inward mutterings. Jon Fosse is a very celebrated contemporary Norwegian writer, performed worldwide and tipped for a Nobel Prize. This is a British premiere in the enterprising little Print Room, rendered by May-Brit Akerholt, a distinguished Ibsen scholar and Fosse translator. The cast are good: Valerie Gogan as the mother trapped in unexpressed anxiety, and Danny Horn glaring, surly, depressed and mainly silent as the failure-to-launch son whose only interest is his dog, even if he won’t go out and look for it. A boyhood friend drops in and tries to get him to come to the city to work, or at least go fishing; the Sister (Jennie Gruner) is the only other character to be allowed to behave remotely naturally.
Simon Usher’s direction allows the 90-minute piece all the painfully pregnant pauses required, and the cast do a remarkable job remembering and rendering the broken, rarely finished, awkwardly repetitive sentences of what is dubbed an “abstract theatre-poem” or “existential suspense story”. The lines often feel more like subtitles than speech. And maybe if it had stayed as gnomically obscure as Beckett’s Endgame it would work better. Because curiously, the problem lies in its having an actual plot: the brother-in-law finds the dog dead, the neighbour having shot it for bothering his children. Next morning the taciturn son has taken up a station at the window staring at the grave for hours, and we learn that the neighbour was murdered in his bed. No prizes for guessing whodunnit.
The difficulty is that while Jennie Gruner as the sister remains naturalistic, and Valerie Gogan gallantly gives the jerky script a miasma of maternal dread, the oddly rendered text creates a sense of slightly absurd unreality, and psychologically it becomes plain irritating. Here’s a family with a clearly disturbed son, so patently in mental trouble that he lies for hours staring at the wall and has got rid of the guitar which was his main talent. His beloved dog, the one emotional outlet, is lying dead in a plastic bag offstage. But when he goes out to look at it, not one of them follows him. Not even the anxious mother. They just stand around speaking half-sentences like broken robots. It doesn’t wash, either as realism or poetry. Nor does the fact that the seemingly normal brother-in-law talks in exactly the same jerky unfinished way as everyone else. Fosse builds atmosphere, but at the expense of credibility. He has said that Britain has “a fear of what is different”. But there are some kinds of bafflement which make you care. Not this.
box office http://www.the-print-room.org to 12 April