Being Norwegian

Wed 3rd – Wed 10th August 2016

reviews

Dominic Leonard

at 09:38 on 11th Aug 2016

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Next door to the studio in the Gilded Balloon Teviot where 'Being Norwegian' is doing a run of late-night performances, a show consisting of pop karaoke was playing. Throughout the show, Single Ladies, It’s Raining Men, and other classic tunes were blasting through the walls accompanied by raucous laughter and cheering. I became increasingly exasperated by this – not because it was so loud that I couldn’t pay full attention to the show in front of me, but because the music and the sound of fun tease the promise of a show that was actually enjoyable. So close, but so far away.

Sean (Tom Hurley) has taken Lisa (Sarah Bennington) back to his cluttered flat after meeting her in a pub, and they discuss their backgrounds: he has a questionable, unsure past; she is from Norway, supposedly. I would hesitate to reveal more of the plot, except there isn’t any. The potential is there for interesting thematic exploration – the distance of home, disconnection, expatriation – but instead the play feeds us bland tautologies and platitudes through characters we are made to feel very little towards. Lisa, probably the most dislikeable character on the boards since Iago, tries to come onto Sean repeatedly, and after he continues to reject her advances, she calls him a wimp. He, on the other hand, has little to think or say about anything at all. The supposedly humorous pauses are awkward for all the wrong reasons, including an unbearably long silence as Sean opens a bottle of red wine. The wine is uncorked and poured straight from the bottle, rendering it the most realistic part of the show.

The chemistry and sincerity necessary for a play like this to work fails to be delivered by the dual cast. Almost every line of Bennington’s is delivered with the same intonation and pacing, and Sean’s awkwardness is conveyed by Hurley with almost nothing more than abrupt pauses, rather than action, expression and voice. Imagine a GCSE performer (who took Drama because they thought it would be easy) saying the following line (one from the show) in response to a difficult question: “Because… [long pause] Anyway.” That is the play in a nutshell.

Director Peter Scott does create interesting shapes with his staging, meaning the eyes are never bored with the single-sofa set, but the proxemics are never redeemed by the acting, which, when it is not being inexpressive and forced, is downright frustrating. The play is close to irredeemable – 'Being Norwegian' tries to be a thought-provoking chamber piece, but with dislikeable characters, uninspiring dialogue and stale acting, the play is a flop, and a heartbreaking waste of a bottle of wine.

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Sebastian Ng

at 09:58 on 11th Aug 2016

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Sean, a Scotsman, takes Lisa, a self-professed Norwegian, back to his place, still piled with unopened boxes of stuff. Lisa has the hots for him, and she displays that subtly at first, but the frightfully shy Sean uses the unopened boxes as an excuse to scurry around the flat opening one box after another, ostensibly searching for a good wine to treat his guest, clearly not wanting to take the hint. Like a careful lynx circling around its prey in decreasing radii, Lisa drops the subtlety, yet Sean still refuses to budge, awkwardly fanning away her advances. What is going on? What kind of a man rejects sex from an attractive woman?

The dialogue is awkward, with Sean continually cracking unfunny jokes or stating the obvious in response to Lisa's conversational starters. Meanwhile, Lisa tries her best to keep her cool as she works hard to draw out any kind of lust from Sean with which she could hook on to. (She does eventually loses her cool, which presents the play with its singular eyebrow-raising moment.) For some reason she thinks selling her Norwegian-ness is the way to do it, with every few sentences beginning with some variation of ‘as a Norwegian …’ In fact, the nationality and its stereotypes do not seem particularly relevant to what is going on in the play – yet there must be, or else why is it in the title? There is a hint at the very last line of the play – Lisa uses Norwegian-ness as a parallel to the theme of lonesome souls in a cold societal landscape – but it is too late and too faint.

Meanwhile, we are left with a play about a relationship that seems stillborn from the beginning. The suspense in the play, built almost entirely around whether the girl gets the boy, and the mystery of why she cannot, is slight. Of the two performances, Sarah Bennington's is the more captivating one; she walks a fine balance between appearing disinterested and signalling interest, and does so with enigmatic subtlety. Tom Hurley does alright playing up the awkwardness of his character, but does not otherwise give us anything more to root for him. The combined effect is a mildly interesting interplay of characters in a mildly interesting situation.

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