Performance Review: When the best vodka is saved to last, it’s … hic … worth the wait


So let’s get this straight: playwright Arne Nielsen’s Danish, but yet he writes in German. Two thespians, more or less from these parts, decide to translate into English his debut play ‘Die Vodkagespräche’ – a four hour-plus drama written with table reads in mind; the German tolerance for pain is higher thanks to Wagner – and stage it with legendary Danish director Lars Junggreen at the helm.

So from Danish to German to English with a twist of Danish – what could possibly go wrong?

Well, based on the reception at the Danish premiere at Teater ved Sorte Hest – the play had previously been staged last November in Malmö – not too much.

Sister act
Again, Vanessa Poole and Jana Pulkrabek from HIT International Theatre Arts – Danish stages’ answer to The Odd Couple – brought equal amounts of playfulness and pathos to the script with their trademark prude sister/cookie sister double act.

But these roles demanded far more than their mere comic talents. Poole, naturally so likeable, brought a horrid aura to her character once the politics started to pour. And when she wasn’t drowning us in bile, she underlined how good a listener she is. Pulkrabek, in the less fun role, meanwhile, made the more convincing drunk, enjoying her best moments as the vodka hit the sweet spot.

There were moments during the performance that really shook you to the core: not least a nightmarish ending imbued with a sense the wrong victors entirely had emerged.

This was theatre – no mistaking that. But it was long. In German, no doubt, audiences joyously lap up the political jokes, and political insights, and political ideological clashes – but given the human interest of this tale at its core, it was overkill.

Ronaldo-esque finish
Still, two hours is not a crime against humanity, and there was plenty to enjoy in this staging – not least the ludicrously good graphics employed at the start to depict the sisters’ childhood home and father smoking away above the mantelpiece.

Equally effective were the boxes the sisters carried, kicked and threw left, right and centre in a seemingly random fashion: off stage, back stage, boxes on top of boxes, the cardboard equivalent of Dresden if we’re sticking with German analogies.

So blow me down if it wasn’t all Junggreen’s design. Not only did these actresses show herculean resolve to master a crazily large amount of dialogue, with no evident slips along the way, but they also kept track of a massive game of Mahjong, only played with nondescript boxes, not tiles adorned in ancient Chinese.

How do we know? Well, in a pivotal scene (close to the end … it transpired) Poole proceeded to kick five neatly lined up in a row, all in quick succession with the same ferocity and precision. Their positioning was no fluke: it had taken two hours to work them into the right place. Ronaldo would have been happy with the result. 

This moment alone made the whole experience worthwhile.