Guardian review of ‘Sweetness’

Sweetness – review

Two brothers dig in for a snowbound standoff in a vivid and strange magical-realist tale

Brunton, Musselburgh

Mark Fisher

One man produces semen that smells like a dead seagull’s armpit. On the other side of the valley, the boils on his brother’s chest seep fluid that tastes like nectar. As with the cancer that affects one and the heart complaint that threatens the other, it feels as though a metaphor is looming; something, perhaps, about inner decay mirroring the rotten relationship between these two men, estranged since 1959.

In Kevin MacNeil’s adaptation of Hummelhonung by novelist Torgny Lindgren, the symbolism is not easy to interpret, but the details add a funny, magical-realist twist to a tale that could otherwise slip into Beckettian gloom. Snowbound, Matthew Zajac’s Archie keeps a vengeful eye on the smoke from his brother’s chimney, hoping any interruption will signal his death. Bent double with stomach cancer, he refuses medication on the grounds that it would represent a moral victory for his rival.

Looking like a bloated Father Jack from Father Ted, Sean Hay’s heavily padded Murdo is a more benign figure, weird bodily habits notwithstanding. “Sweetness sweetens your entire being,” he says with a chuckle. His obsession with Archie is no less debilitating, however, as he allows the memory of his dead son and departed wife to fester like one of his scabs.

Lynne Verrall’s too-cool Kate, an academic stranded in the snow, hears prosecution and defence from these two unreliable narrators and pieces together the story of their falling out. Her research into the life of St Christopher, a protector against sudden death, places her in the role of heavenly mediator.

The Dogstar production suffers from clumsy transitions, but the vivid and strange characterisations see it through.

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