The Arcola Theatre plays host to the VOLTA International Festival until the 19th September. There are four different productions showing over the space of just under three weeks. If you have three hours to spare, it is possible to catch two different productions in the same evening. Andrea Ferran, VOLTA’s Artistic Director describes how the festival intends to provide London audiences with ‘their first opportunity to see work by ground-breaking playwrights rarely staged in the UK’. The four plays are: hamlet is dead. no gravity by Ewald Palmetshofer (Austria), Caught by Christopher Chen (USA), Ant Street by Roland Schimmelpfennig (Germany) and I Caught My Brothers by Jonas Hassen Khemiri (Sweden).
I opt to watch two plays on my first night; the first is Palmetshofer’s hamlet is dead. no gravity. Palmetshofer’s tricky script is tricky but on the whole engaging; think Hamlet meets Ibsen meets one of those chunky scientific calculators. A group of four old acquaintances meet by chance at the funeral of an old mutual friend. Awkward and polite conversation ensues which immediately establishes a tension which consistently throbs beneath the drama. The smug married couple Bine (Elizabeth Chan) and Oli (Richard Pryal) are invited back to visit the family home of the second half of the quartet- siblings Dani and Mani. We are whisked into a sphere of twisted domesticity in which each of the characters harbour morbid desires and dark secrets.
Palmetshofer is interested in what lurks beneath the glossy surface of social etiquette. Characters consistently wander off into mental soliloquies which show a disparity between what is being said by the characters and what is being thought by the characters. As the play unfolds we delve further into the introspective world; chaos ensues and we dip into incest, matrimonial affairs and murders.
Neil Blackadder’s elliptical translation captures an erratic rhythm which is matched by director Andrea Ferran’s choreography. Characters move with a calculated purpose around the stage and make good use of James Perkin’s intelligent set design. A neon sign flickers on and off projecting the word Augsgang (exit) as the characters grow increasingly disconnected with one another, flittering between the present towards digressions on past and future. Richard Pryal (Oli) and Stuart Bowman who portrays the family’s father figure particularly excel in their roles. Others in the cast do not perform their roles so succinctly but overall this is a strong production. It pierces the unsettling instability of family, friendship and marriage. Very good.