Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
Elling (John Simm) and Kjell Bjarne (Adrian Bower) share a bedroom in a mental asylum and, after two years' internment, the state decides they are ready for independence. Supplied with their own flat in Oslo, the pair can only remain there if they manage to convince their social worker that they can cope in the outside world. The play follows their progress as they grapple with normality and attempt to integrate themselves into society, with the ever-present, sword of Damocles-style threat of a return to the institution.
The play's strength is in its characters. John Simm reveals his excellent comic acting abilities as the neurotic, intensely agoraphobic and self-confessed "Mummy's boy" Elling. In a superbly immersed performance, John Simm plays the character with prim, proper and tight little movements. Articulate to the point of pretentiousness and a man of extremely fine sensibilities ("Public toilets are not my forte"), he comes to realise his poetic aspirations: "I now know I must become an underground poet— Mummy's boy maybe but a new dangerous version".
In many ways, Kjell's character is the opposite. Obtuse and a man of few words (unless they concern food or women), he is scruffy, unshaven and, when asked, is unable to say how many days he has been wearing his pants for. Adrian Bower succeeds in making him a sympathetic character and plays him with a certain wide-eyed innocence for all his lewdness.
The pair encounter a number of other characters in their quest for social integration and this array of characters adds a great sense of human texture to the play, not to mention comic possibilities. There is the draconian nurse Gunn (Ingrid Lacey), the social worker Frank Asli (Keir Charles) who is trendy but suffers little of Elling's lingering hermit-tendencies, a retired poet Alfons (Jonathan Cecil) and the heavily pregnant Reiden (Ingrid Lacey) who drunkenly falls against their door on Christmas Eve.
The play's setting has not moved from Norway and the adaptation still retains a distinctly Scandinavian feel. The characters have very slight Norwegian accents, and the set is an Ikea-style sanitised room, made up of hard, straight lines and plain colours. The audience views an insular, clinical world within a wasteland of society and the characters' interaction has a peculiarly disjointed feel.
More than anything else, this is a character drama, and has no pretensions to any deep profound meaning other than the human interest. Nevertheless, it is both touching and funny. This is a contemporary, heart-warming tale of friendship on the borderline of insanity.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.