Extra-marital affairs are often the subject of drama. A husband leaves his wife for a younger woman; a middle-aged woman becomes tired of the banality of home and strays. But seldom is the process of reconciliation and rehabilitation back into a family environment portrayed.
Pamela Carter’s new work Skåne is the first of two plays running at the Hampstead Theatre’s basement space in a series dubbed Hampstead Downstairs, the aim of which is to encourage and showcase new writing as part of a wider programme in which the theatre sources and develops writers rather than solely their works.
…the story renders time a chronological haze.
Skåne begins its narrative at home in the Swedish town of the same name. We are at the family table of Kurt, whose wife Malin has had an affair. Also at the table are Malin’s lover Christian and his wife and daughter.
The fallout of the decision the two made in sleeping together is clearly visible (and implicated) in the subsequent actions of their partners and children over the course of the play. We are left never quite sure which way the story is moving despite the lovers promising to return to their partners at the start. The cyclical nature of the story renders time a chronological haze. What is left is the startling sense that the central act of Malin and Christian’s lust had gone on to breed something else.
…embodying the animalistic and fleshy lust of their affair.
Christian’s darling daughter, masterfully played by the talented Shannon Tarbet, appears to grasp her own sexuality and metamorphose from Daddy’s sugar-sweet “treacle” to coquettish teenager in front of our eyes. Malin’s young son Olle meanwhile is swept aside into insignificance by the changes going on around him.
Whether time was moving towards or away from it, the finale finds Malin and Christian, naked in a resort hotel room. Jethro Skinner, as Christian, strongly delivers the visceral sexuality between the couple; “I want to open up your ribs and climb inside you… then I’ll be home,” embodying the animalistic and fleshy lust of their affair. Each scene ends with different characters processing across the stage, as if to remind the audience of those bound up in the narrative. These constant ghostly visitations encourage the audience to feel that this passionate act also has a deeply destructive selfishness, one with repercussions beyond the greed of man and woman.
…even your Christmas crunched wallet can relax.
There is palpable excitement surrounding the new writing performed in the Hampstead’s studio space. Alongside Skåne, Nick Payne’s Lay Down Your Cross debuts in the New Year (from 24 February) and promises further “kitchen-table” minimalism in its Luton setting, punctuated with the emotional and familial.
The aura of modernism mixed with good classical rooting (Skåne’s director was the Globe Theatre’s Tim Carroll), in a pleasant Swiss Cottage location, means the Hampstead Downstairs project is an apt antidote to endless Christmas shopping in the crowded capital or a cultural refresher come the New Year. And with student tickets at a modest £10 even your Christmas crunched wallet can relax.
Skåne continues until 26 November
Details about upcoming productions, And No More Shall We Part (12 January) and Lay Down Your Cross (24 February), can be found here.
Images courtesy of Skåne