Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

10/09/2016 - 17/09/2016

Production Details

Ever thought about starting a secret weekend life in another city?  

Paper Plane Factory presents the premiere New Zealand production of multi-award winning Lithuanian playwright Marius Ivaskevicius’ internationally acclaimed play, Close City.  This will be the first time one of his plays has been performed in New Zealand. He is known for his ironic, sharp, critical and frequently provocative writing style and has been awarded for all main Lithuanian literary prizes.

Starring: Sheena Irving, Jeff Szusterman, Thomas Sainsbury, Emma Newborn, Daniel Watterson & Lucy Suttor, Directed by Egle Simkeviciute Kulvelis.

The Little Mermaid, Jars of Jam, Prostitution, family life, beer drinking, Denmark and Sweden all collide together in a dark, twisted, phantasmagorical, absurdist mess to present you this Lithuanian absurd comedy drama.  It is about people who forgot how to love and be loved, and people who forget how to love are dangerous!

Their souls know no taboos, they will confront the audience with the danger inherent in their own nature and remind us that we are not free, and the sky can still fall on our heads.

Based on a true story, Close City follows Anika, a wife and mother, who, pursuing her husband in an effort to understand his weekend excursions to a neighbouring city, discovers the possibility of a new life. Suspended between two cities, each with their own divine and fiendish natures, Anika finds herself trapped between two roles: mother and prostitute. 

Close City is a strong social criticism, it shows situations and catastrophes of the soul. Sometimes it pours out like a hysterical scream, but in Close City it appears like a dreamlike phantasmagoria.”

Dates:  Tue – Sat 6th – 17th September 2016
Venue: Basement Theatre 
Tickets: $15-$24
Bookings: or phone iTicket 09 361 1000 

Theatre ,

Alluring and ultimately disturbing reverie

Review by Nik Smythe 14th Sep 2016

Dim lighting on the dark, cluttered set sets a suitably claustrophobic tone as the audience convenes.  A wheeled rostrum, chairs, lampshades, suitcases and a tin basin strew the stage, while clothes racks, hanging lamps on cords and hundreds of glass tumblers line the black walls.  Members of the cast sit, stand and lie in static positions evoking a sense of disconnect, damage, alienation.  This introductory vignette is aptly representative of the mercurially sinister action to follow. 

Paper Plane Factory has recruited Lithuanian director Egle Simkeviciute Kulvelis to direct Close City by her compatriot: prolific and locally esteemed playwright Marius Ivaškevičius.  It is its NZ premier and certainly the first Lithuanian play I’ve seen to my knowledge, so I couldn’t say whether the script is at all typical of the regional fare, or not. 

Either way, it’s actually not a Lithuanian story.  Written a decade ago, around the time of the construction of the Öresund Bridge between Malmö, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark, Close City explores, among other things, the connections, differences and rivalry between the two cities, visible to eachother across the Öresund Strait.  Numerous other complex themes include, but are not limited to, freedom and control, desire and regret, sexuality and conscience, repression, oppression and abuse.

Sheena Irving charms, amuses and intrigues as protagonist Annika, frustrated homebound wife and mother of three on a journey of self-discovery.  At first thwarted by her tedious, hypocritical husband Svanke (Jeff Szusterman), who journeys every weekend to Copenhagen himself, allegedly to ‘have a beer in the harbour’, Annika remains determined to make good on her desire to visit the famous city seen from the window of their fourth floor apartment. 

Thomas Sainsbury interjects on their relationship as Carlsson, a giggly, manic, falsetto-voiced Swedish clown based on Astrid Lindgren’s Karlsson-on-the-Roof, blathering on incessantly about his and/or Sweden’s superiority on any subject he may mention, and that’s quite a few.  I’ve not read the book but would assume Sainsbury’s pernicious, seedy take on the character to be somewhat more macabre and creepy than the source material. 

Similarly Lucy Sutter’s Little Mermaid transcends the forlorn tragedy of the heartbreaking fairytale by celebrated Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen, casting her as Carlsson’s exploited prisoner.  Although seeming largely complicit in the increasingly atrocious psychological, physical and sexual tortures he has her endure, she appears to capitulate for the purpose of getting through it, rather than succumb to any degree of Stockholm syndrome, as it were.

Annika finally has her chance to break free and explore the mystical, so-near-yet-so-far city she’s dreamed of for so long. 

Balancing the Swedish couple, and the juxtaposed fantasy pairing of one of each, are the two Danish characters Annika encounters on her first excursion beyond the city limits of her homestead.  On the train over the bridge she meets Birgit (Emma Newborn), a confidently frank woman with an unapologetic penchant for certain peculiar sexual activities.  Then after a night on the tiles, shown through an intense, musically driven montage, she calls upon Lars (Daniel Watterson), a beguilingly sensual yet aloof male whore, ready and willing to engage in anyone’s pleasure for the right price. 

It takes a while for Annika to realise just what her own innermost pleasure consists of, but through eager determination she soon discovers things about the world and herself in which she indulges willingly.  But later, bemused by people’s judgments and coerced by exploitation of her dark secrets, she ultimately reaches places far deeper than she would have been hoping for, or even imagined. 

The dense, layered production design amplifies the intensity of the play’s dark, disorienting perversity.  Amber Molloy’s effective lighting is blended with Simona Minns’s potent soundtrack composition and Mark Vorstman’s occasional sound effects, not to mention Egle Simkeviciute Kulvelis’ aesthetically impressive costume design (made by Jacqui Harrison), to elicit an onstage reverie both alluring and ultimately disturbing.  

The most feasible theory is that we are observing the tale from within Annika’s mind, although it could as well be Svanke’s or even possibly the mermaid’s.  Rather than elucidating us, each new twist tends to compound the confusion, for instance the mystery of Svanke’s true agenda, or when the reality of Birgit’s function is revealed then twisted then turned on its head once more. 

Classic absurdist theatre, in other words.


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A Doll’s Hell

Review by Nathan Joe 14th Sep 2016

“It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, who may not be who we essentially are.”― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel.

Like A Doll’s House‘s Nora, Close City‘s Annika (Sheena Irving) is trapped within the walls of stifling domesticity, watched over by a patronising husband (Jeff Szusterman) and pestered by her children. But, while both plays share a similar yearning for escape, the similarities end there. Where Henrik Ibsen painted a decidedly naturalistic portrait, Marius Ivaskevicius is unashamedly absurd. [More


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Double-life tale a treat

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 14th Sep 2016

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. [More


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