It’s a bright mid-May Saturday, when I coerce a playwright to head to NIDA to see a matinee performance of a new(ish) Swedish play. Ten days earlier I had received an email from the director inviting me to opening night – which unfortunately also coincided with several other opening nights (they come not as single spies!) including Baal, Wendy Blacklock’s (Rumoured) Retirement Party/Tribute night, the opening of Weave Arts Centre.… and despite attempting to successfully juggle some demanding deadlines, there was something that asked me to make some time and space for Cold. Primarily because I don’t think I have ever read a contemporary Swedish play -and I was curious to hear/see the themes/concerns and style of a play that would capture the attention and passion of a troupe of emerging artists, and inspire a production.

The promotional blurb from Earthcrosser pitches the show thus –

“Three boys celebrate the end of high school in a forest by a lake. Aggressive and drunk, they are contemptuous of everything around them. A fourth young man wanders past, and by doing so, unwittingly begins to challenge their way of life. In only a few short hours the boys become caught in a rapid spiral of violence with terrible and fateful outcomes. Based on actual race-driven murders across Sweden, this theatrical work written by renowned Scandinavian playwright Lars Norén, is a brutal look at the intricate yet extreme nature of intolerance. Director Shiereen Magsalin leads a strong ensemble in creating a world both visually and aurally stark and striking. Cold is a cautionary tale, a window to our frighteningly real future if societies continue to advocate the attitude “us and them”.”

These aren’t new ideas – teenagers who are violent, latent anger expressing itself in shocking and horrifying ways – I might cite (if you’re into books and films) Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” or perhaps if you are into theatre Dennis Kelly’s “DNA” or even DC Moore’s examination of race violence in “Alaska” – the force of passion, youthful energy, anger, pack mentality, peer-pressure, a desperate search to challenge all that is, and manifest what should be.

The play itself leaves little room to move – with the result of a violent act upfront on stage. All that follows is the tracking of actions, words and choices that lead to that point – which is not necessarily a bad structure if tension is built into the conflict between what we are experiencing at any given moment and the foregone conclusion. For example, Death of Salesman foreshadows Willy Lowman’s demise in the title – but the question is “Why” and “How.” The opening sequence of Cold – leaves us little doubt of the trajectory. We implicate all three boys – so the question is then why, or how they are coerced into a violent murder. And unfortunately the writing answers that very quickly through the articulate diatribes of the alpha male of the group. So as a play – somewhat predictable, somewhat unengaged as a piece of writing- perhaps there is some genre/sound/poetry that is lost in translation?

What is fascinating however is the production itself – the production elements are well co-ordinated and arranged. Clearly the attraction to this play is not necessarily the story, but the freedom/ opportunity to shape the text into a performance. It appears that this play has become the vehicle for the director. And again, this is not a bad thing – Sydney is a little “director-as- uber- auteur” crazy right now. And Shiereen Magsalin has done an impressive job ensuring her vision is coherent. A brief skim over the production blog reveals her passion and vision for theatre – her enthusiasm and drive – all which I commend and all which I encourage. She is clearly talented and passionate – and young having only graduated in 2006 – and already some impressive credits to her name. This is however, the first time I have seen her work, and I have no point of reference for her other works but I will be sure to keep an eye out for her in the future. (Though she does seem to have an international bent, so Oz may not retain her for long, methinks).

The visual elements are strong – especially that of Liam O’Keefe’s lighting design -particularly inventive and evocative – though I wasn’t sure about the some of the lighting overwhelming some more naturalistic moments. Likewise Robin Dixon’s steady underscoring of the whole play: polyphonic weaving of sounds – strings, metal percussion, ambient looping, scratching atmospheres were also beautiful and eerie and somewhat hypnotic.

The cast, comprising of four actors: Aidan Gillett, Alistair Cooke, Jey Osman and Silvan Rus vary in acting style and background and experience. Fortunately the well focused energy and vocal skill of Aidan Gillet is a delight – committed and in command of his performance, and drives the action beautifully – unfortunately the writing doesn’t leave him much variation – but what he is granted, he flexes into a compelling performance – when he speaks, when he moves, one can’t help but watch him. And I’m sure we’ll see more of his work in years to come.

All in all I always applaud the bravery, passion and vision of any new company – and encourage them wholeheartedly in their pursuits. I have a feeling that perhaps Magsalin’s true calling may be in devising/ creating new work with an ensemble, not necessarily text-based theatre. In this circumstance it appears that perhaps the play was the vehicle for process, not process serving the play. A well-written play demands the writing be put first – that it is given some space, and is sturdy and beautiful enough not to require music or light to distract – but to let the actors tell the story, and that, often is enough.

I will keep an eye out for this company and I look forward to witnessing their next offering.