A brilliant Scandi noir of the psyche, spoken in gibberish in a surreal world, Norwegian Jo Strømgren Kompani’s The Hospital, is gripping; moving from bizarre, black humour to darker, sadistic and frightening exposés of power relationships. Three women, two nurses and their matron wait in a deserted hospital but with no patients available, they practise on each other. They appear to be abandoned in an unspecific war zone but what exactly the circumstances are we do not know.
This may be one of the most original shows of this festival.
To make this show even more surreal the actors speak gibberish based very loosely on Icelandic. There is no original script and the speech is built up through improvisation which concentrates on rhythm and tone but amazingly the actors know what they are saying and the audience have a good idea too.
Two walls, one in front of the other painted the familiar dirty cream and olive dado of so many old hospitals serve as a corridor into which the nurses can disappear. Storm lanterns suggest their remote location. There is also a bed with a blood-stained mattress setting up an ominous tension before the action even begins.
The music ranging from Bach to Jan Garbarak creates a range of moods. Though mainly physical theatre there are sections when all three actors dance in unison in stiff military style, suggesting their devotion as nurses in their buttoned-up uniforms to their shared duty, before it all goes horribly wrong.
The Matron is a bully. She even wears a badge which the audience can’t read, of course, but the actor who plays her, Guri Glans, tells me it says ‘Powersick’. The two other nurses Ingri Enger Damon, the blonde, and Gunhild Aubert Opdal, the dark-haired one, respond sullenly but later in fear as the cruelty grows. All three actors are stunning, shifting totally believably in infinite gradations, from the dominant to the submissive one.
Building from tiny instances, the tension grows, with more and more unexpected developments, some hilarious, so that the audience is on the edge of their seats throughout. Submitting to being wounded in various nasty ways including sexual abuse, the two nurses eventually get their revenge on Matron. In the meantime there are manic set pieces resulting from raiding the drug cupboard.
Every now and then a helicopter drones overhead and finally a package is dropped. The contents create a crisis; the nurses break out into American English - the only time a real language is used - giving us some background context. As the nurses bring out photographs of American patients they have treated in the past, pinning them to the wall and start to kiss them, this builds to an alarming breakdown of literally abandoned, abject sexual need. Without going into detail, the ending is both harrowing and strangely funny. This may be one of the most original shows of this festival.