Speaking to people about Suzy Storck this week, I keep wondering how I should describe it. I don’t want to give too much away. The story of Suzy Storck emerges ‘Like a body from the earth / Like a story you dig up’. It’s not so much a question of twists or big reveals, but part of the satisfaction, for the audience, is in piecing together what has happened. That’s also, I think, where much of the power of the play lies: in piecing together what has happened, we come to understand an act that, on the face of it, seems incomprehensible.
In any case, that’s something we’ve been coming to terms with in the rehearsal room this week – how could this story, this tragedy, happen? Strangely, it seems like the less understanding the characters are towards one another, the more understanding we become as an audience. These are characters who are brutal to one another. The people closest to Suzy Storck have a set idea of what her life should look like. They seek to impose this idea on her, stifling her desires and ambitions in the process. It’s hard to watch. It’s also funny, in parts. It has funny moments. Somewhere between the moments of comedy and the cruelty of what Suzy must endure, we begin to understand.
Mid-week, during a tea break, the actors chat about what it’s like to play out tragedy, disaster, loss, anxiety, night after night. If you’re enacting an imagined situation with complete commitment, the body doesn’t necessarily distinguish between fiction and reality. The stress to the body, the adrenaline, is still there. They talk about other parts they’ve played, productions in which they’ve been asked to play out horrific situations on stage in realistic ways. They talk about how exhausting it can be.
Maybe the tragedy in Suzy Storck isn’t so straightforward, though. Yes, a horrific thing that has happened, a thing that, at points, feels very real, but there’s also story-telling and playfulness. We jump back and forth in time, we cut between different modes, moods, styles, atmospheres. It’s beautiful watching the performers finding these switches, these transitions, this sense of play. Jean-Pierre suggests that there should be a ‘childish’ quality in the performances – in the way that the performers switch from one emotion to another, one situation to another, almost without warning (like a child crying one moment and laughing the next). Maybe this quality can help to lift the performers, to insulate them from the strain of the horror they are playing out.
Watching from an audience perspective in rehearsals, I certainly feel this makes a difference. It is an emotional piece to work on, but I do not feel washed out or drained at the end of the week. I feel like I am beginning to understand.