City’s in the pink of health

Bådteatret, the boat theatre in Nyhavn: an intimate place to go and watch a play. It’s ideal if you’re in love, but you may just think twice about getting married after watching ‘The City’ …

White roses adorn the toilets on the night of the premiere. I later question why they aren’t pink. The atmosphere is poignant. The women in front  are making a fuss about a seat staying open for a late reviewer. The lights go out. Somewhere in suburbia an intriguing story is unfolding.

A middle-aged couple, Clair and Christopher (Sue Hansen Styles and Andrew Jeffers), nag each other. At first in a seemingly ordinary and chatty conversation, but underneath the sarcastic niceties lurk vulnerability, jealousy and a flirtation with betrayal.

The neighbour Jenny (Vanessa Poole in a thrilling performance), a nurse on nightshifts, appears in the garden. Her motivations are dubious, insinuating and suggestive, complaining that she can’t sleep because of the noise made by Clair and Christopher’s kids. Her husband is at war, her patients cling onto life, and her frenzy contrasts with the suburban issues faced by her neighbours.

We hear the children laughing, but we only meet the girl (Emilia Poole Jönsson, who is extremely good)  − what has happened to the boy? Has he, as it was suggested, been locked inside the playroom for playing too loudly?

Something is simmering, something dark and quite sad, something shining like the flash of a sharp blade or an insincere smile.

“Shall I come over and kiss you then?” Christopher asks his wife. No, it’s no use asking a woman if she wants to be kissed. Surely, you would just do it, says Clair. “Impose your will upon me.” He doesn’t move and instead repeats the obvious: “So shall I come over and impose my will upon you then?” She cries, they shout and argue − and all attempts to renew the passion between them fail miserably.

Desperation whispers loudly: where has it gone, the love we shared? Shall all be lost before it dawns on us that we cannot feed on cities in dust?

Whether it’s a story about abuse, a marriage on the rocks or the destruction of the marriage institution, the family unit or communities in general, ‘The City’ clearly illustrates a family struggling to communicate, and it is tempting to jump to conclusions about their true motives. Because between them, you also see the odd glimpse of desire to be playful, to love and be loved, to protect the values and reputation of their family, and to be of service to others.

The playfulness and what lies underneath – our flesh, our vulnerability to be exposed – is also illustrated by the colour pink, which runs like a thread throughout the play: pink sweaters, pink shirts, pink jeans and pink nylon jackets; the kind of candy floss pink I wore when I was a young girl.

It is a playful statement for an adult to be wearing pink − if not directly a rebellion against the coming of age. Tight pink jeans and high heels on a young person signals a readiness to let something fly. Pink raw meat is revealed in the pocket of a wide-eyed little girl with blonde pigtails – it’s like ‘Pretty in Pink’ versus ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?’.

‘The City’ is dark-witted and has a subtle cutting edge, and director Barry McKenna has succeeded in getting powerful performances out of a fabulous four some who look disturbingly comfortable in their roles.

The City

April 2

Bådteatret, Nyhavn, Cph K; ends April 20, performances Mon-Fri 20:00, Sat 17:00; tickets 140kr, discounts for youths and groups, www.teaterbilletter.dk; 90 mins, over-15s only; www.whynottheatre.dk

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