Upon entering the Dolphin Theatre, one enters an intimate space where the audience sits close to the stage, and as the seats fill and the lights dim, the space almost feels caliginous. The University Dramatic Society’s musical The Flatpack Life began with a lovely song and dance routine that introduced Björn Hammarskjöld (Caleb Donaldson) – a man who had moved from Sweden to Australia to pursue his dream of working for the Swedish furniture company ‘Möbler’ (transl. ‘Furniture’, and yes, this is all a not so subtle reference to IKEA).
I am sure we have all at some point questioned how this billion-dollar furniture company has managed to remain so successful with their incredibly low prices. I have always speculated that it was due to their adulation of island keys, flat packs and the whole ‘build-it-yourself’ philosophy. However, the proposition put forth by writers Matthew Nixon and Ralph Thompson is far more ingenious.
The actors’ stage presence was tremendous and with the captivating dialogue, the accompanying songs effortlessly sung, coordinated dance numbers, and unceasing (yet perfectly timed) sexual innuendos the audience is kept enthralled. The continuous dialogue on stage was slightly hard to interpret with the overpowering orchestra in the background (a hiccup that I am explaining away as a hazard of opening night), but the performers handled it admirably and it did not diminish the overall experience of the musical. The show also masked its transitions wonderfully with Jackson Griggs’ composition that was inspired by the sort of music made infamous by elevators, shopping malls, and local phone providers.
As the plot thickened I found myself increasingly intrigued, filled as it was with moral dilemmas, dramatic scenes, and (my personal highlight of the show) a dexterous rap song between Björn’s love interest Rhonda (Lucy Rossen) and her colleague Beatrice (Erin Craddock – an exceptional actress and one to look out for). This song was flawless and is, on its own merit, a sufficient reason to go and see this musical. The way that Donaldson epitomised the timid, ambivalent, and (let’s face it) non-combatant nature that Swedes are somewhat known for is splendidly praiseworthy. Likewise, Sven’s (Nick Morlet) character brilliantly embodied the metrosexual (and somewhat conflicted) Swede familiar around the world.
From the uncouth border security team with their dubious (and hilariously rambunctious) interrogation techniques, to the inner workings of how items at IKEA receive their notorious names (RÅSKOG is a popular name in the IKEA Kitchen department and even I as a Swede have issues interpreting that one), there is never a dull moment. If bioterrorists, evil empires, a dainty love-story, villains, meatballs and island keys appeal to you, go and have your senses tantalised by experiencing UDS’ latest offering. The only thing I have left to say is: bra jobbat och lycka till med era resterande pjäser!
Words by Leona Mpagi
The Flatpack Life ran at the Dolphin Theatre from the 3-7 May 2016.