It is 8.54pm, toys litter the stage and three bottles of wine stand stagnant in the hot evening sun. Suzy Storck (Caoilfhionn Dunne); a mother, a person, an object, waits for him to come home. Something is palpably wrong. This is what we are presented with at the top of this play – a situation which is frantic for clarification, for any sort of explanation. We then dive straight into the knotty past, with a flashback, to see the beginning of the tragedy of a loveless, lifeless mother.
The Gate Theatre has released its 2017 hit play by Magali Mougel (translated by Chris Campbell) for a month, to be viewed as online theatre during lockdown. Although this is not particularly well-filmed, the quality of this chilling play is strong enough to appal and agitate in equal measure. The film is actually more reminiscent of being at the theatre than when watching an expertly recorded piece because there is just one camera angle, just as there is just one view from your seat. The camera is part of the audience, all closing in on Suzy as though animal in a zoo. Her children are upstairs banging on the locked door, and the entire play is overshadowed by their presence.
Dunne is desperately fantastic as Storck - her frantic stillness is intoxicating as she struggles through her non-existence. ‘What I wanted from the world doesn’t matter’ she cries, the despondent use of the past tense is heartbreaking. We watch her world being dictated to the point of collapse as she is driven mad by societal expectations. The direction by Jean-Pierre Baro is nuanced in the tiny, versatile space: an encouraging debut. My favourite moment is when Storck encourages the audience to help her tidy the sea of toys covering the floor. It took a good five minutes of dreadful silence, but it was a masterful touch: a silent cry for help amongst the chaos. For a moment the audience could lean forward to intervene in the unfolding calamity, but then they were forced to sit back, helpless.
Dunne was supported by a strong chorus of three, each playing a crucial role in the destruction of Storck’s sanity. They gang up on her, the husband, the mother, even the narrator of the story. They all hit and haul her into a life she abhors, always using her full name to coax her into having children, as though she were herself a child. With this idea, Baro explores the recurring theme of rotting, and of decay. The grotesque images of decomposition mingle with the set of a working-class home in an uneasy manner.
We end where we began, no progress has been made. Questions are answered, holes are filled, but one gaping issue still remains like a near-perfect circle with ends not quite meeting: what happens next? Chaos, pyjamas and empty wine bottles? Sounds a little like lockdown… But no, lurking beneath this broken family are the shadows of regret, control and an infinite list of what ifs. This is certainly an eerie lockdown experience, but well worth a watch.
You can watch Suzy Storck on the Gate Theatre website until Tuesday 30th June.
Photo by Helen Murray