Theatre review: Close City, Basement Theatre

By Paul Simei-Barton

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Actor Jeff Szusterrman is one of the stars of Close City.
Actor Jeff Szusterrman is one of the stars of Close City.

The diversity of theatre offered at the Basement is amply demonstrated in an intriguing work by contemporary Lithuanian playwright Marius Ivaskevicius.

The absurdist drama takes us into the seedy underbelly of the Scandinavian sex industry and touches on the disturbing themes rumbling beneath the deceptively sweet surface of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid.

The Close City story is loosely based on a magazine article about a Swedish woman who lived as an anonymous housewife and mother in her home city of Malmo while secretly working as a prostitute in the nearby Danish capital, Copenhagen. Much of the action hinges on the 8km Oresund Bridge that connects Sweden with Denmark; appreciation of the play can be enhanced by brushing up on Scandinavian geography.

Lithuanian Director Egle Simkeviciute Kulvelis draws on local talent to create a hallucinatory world that is often wickedly funny as it amplifies and distorts the absurdities of modern life. In the intimate space of the Basement Studio, a series of strangely poetic images are brought to life with intensely physical performances and as in a dream, fragments of everyday conversation are imbued with the portentous significance of an oracle.

At times the treatment of sexual violence is deeply disturbing, but the talented cast is able to focus attention on the human emotions behind the play's nightmarish vision. Sheena Irving movingly expresses the existential torment of a woman who loses her identity as she alternates between a loveless marriage and the depravity of the sex industry.

Jeff Szusterman effectively gives voice to a persuasive sense of alienation and Thomas Sainsbury brings amusing irony to his portrayal of psychotic villain who likes to indulge in gleefully deranged gastronomic fantasies.

What: Close City
Where: Basement Theatre to September 17

- NZ Herald

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