"Fire!" says Jan from his bed. "Fem!" counters his wife Sanne. "Oh no," I think. "This play is in Danish." But after about five minutes of a scene between a husband and wife bickering about the length of their marriage, the sound of a rewinding tape plays, and the couple mimic going through their motions in reverse. They then begin again − this time in English − and I utter a sigh of relief.
'The Beach' is a short, four-man play written by Peter Assmusen, the famed writer of Lars von Trier's ‘Breaking the Waves’, and translated into English by David Duchin. Directed by and starring Russell Collins alongside his wife Christina Anthony, who together co-founded Scene Kunst Skoler five years ago, it centres on two couples who holiday at a deserted seaside location year after year, seemingly and inexplicably pulled back in by the pure monotony the escape provides.
The stage is simple: two beds stand for the couple's rooms, with lighting used to focus on one bedroom at a time, and sand, seaweed and rubbish is strewn at the audience's feet, giving the sense that we really are at the beach.
Each couple − and each individual, for that matter − is about as different from the other as possible. We meet Jan (Danny Thykær) and Sanne (Anthony) first, and we immediately get the sense that Jan is a loquacious fellow obsessed with memories captured through photos, while Sanne is a bit vain, a bit disinterested and entirely into tanning. They have been vacationing at this beach year after year, but something keeps pulling them back, keeping their ennui just out of reach.
On the other hand, we have Verner (Collins) and Benedikte (Alexandra Ternstrøm, a former Mrs Denmark), the younger couple who have come to this beach for the very first time. Benedikte lies in bed, waiting for her husband to walk through the door. She seems meek, quiet and a bit nervous about something. Verner finally enters (after a comedic bit in which he opens the door of Jan and Sanne's room multiple times, struggling to find his own room), and his light-heartedness is nearly palpable. His youthful baseball cap paired with his absentminded ramblings about identical hallways and doors add to this image.
So here we have four people, paired off into ill-fitting combinations, staying at a desolate hotel for a winter holiday. What else does one add to the mix? Flaws, delusion and adultery, of course.
The idea of a four-actor play is impressive in and of itself, but this cast rise to the occasion. Each character carries a heavy burden of complexity, and weaving these traits together is done well. The couples react off each other, and one character gives in when another takes. Two affairs are happening concurrently, and this skilful chess match is made even more difficult and sombre. When one is actually acted upon and kept secret, psychological hell breaks loose. Jan fails to commit suicide, and Benedikta loses something she holds dearer than life itself. Verner falls into old memories, and Sanne remains her independent, sassy self.
This experience is a self-reflection for humanity. It depicts how we react to each other when there is nothing else to entertain us: no iPhones, no internet and no escape. It's an intimate look in the mirror, and while we may not like it, it speaks to the possibilities of our minds and how we act − or don't act − upon our inner thoughts.
Go see 'The Beach'. It's an experience you're not likely to forget.
The Beach – April 2
'The Beach' is playing seven days a week at Krudttønden until April 12. Tickets cost 165 kroner at www.billetten.dk – concessions are available for groups, under-25s and groups.