EFR - Reviews of HOUSEPLAY

HOUSEPLAY

Tue 18th – Sat 29th August 2015

reviews

Louis Shankar

at 09:57 on 23rd Aug 2015

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Have you always wanted to see a conversation between a scuba mask, a cafetiere and a scarf? Yes? Then you’re in luck with this show. And if you haven’t, then Houseplay is still an enjoyable - if surreal - farcical comedy. As a family fight over their inheritance, household objects scheme to plan their own futures.

The premise and general script (devised by Oli Branton, Edie Edmundson, Gemma Turnbull and others) was imaginative, although far from what I was expecting based on the blurb. Some dialogue was wonderful, especially the gardener’s poetry about herbs and flowers that was a convincing pastiche of great poets, with a few memorable one-liners: “Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.” There were times when it felt over-developed, though, as if there were multiple in-jokes devised by the cast that fell flat on the audience.

Strong direction made the whole play visually striking and consistently engaging. An introduction - and coda - involving shadow theatre were particularly memorable, as were the slightly unnecessary ‘flashbacks’. An unexplained but hilarious series of tableaux towards the end was perfectly choreographed and a brief but effective fight found the right balance between convincing and slapstick.

A few of the cast excelled, producing memorable performances despite varied parts to play. Matt Morrison, who balanced the parts of Antonio the gardener and Jeff the chef (including an offstage conversation between the two), was particularly subtle, yet produced bold, well-caricatured characters.

Conversely, the matriarch Evelyn (played by Ryan Barker) felt a bit too over-the-top from the moment he emerged in slightly terrifying and horrifically unconvincing makeup meant to age him. I was also rather put off by his costuming; in a production that paid attention to detail in many ways, seeing hairy legs beneath nude tights seemed like an unfortunate oversight. The daughter-in-law-to-be (Sorcha Kennedy), whose tension with the mother had good chemistry, similarly fell into the trap of overacting beyond being merely funny.

The tone of the play - both in its writing and its performance - was hard to pin down: talking furniture, scheming family, abrupt shifts in tone, nonsensical cameo character. It was crazy and creative; enjoyable but quite confusing; and overall presented a team of cast and creatives who certainly have the potential to produce something original and fun.

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Tess Davidson

at 10:04 on 23rd Aug 2015

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The sense of anticipation amongst the audience was overwhelmingly palpable. As the music mounted, I sat back, unsure of what to expect. For it is no easy feat to completely let go as an actor, to completely immerse oneself in utter chaos and pandemonium. Often, the dark, looming line of laughter and uncomfortable silence is closer than many comedic actors think. Yet Houseplay was a resounding success, striking the perfect balance between a farce and a mocking parody of farcical comedy. From the beginning, the audience, noticeably full, was brought in by the imaginative and creative use of props and materials, the use of a screen to project an array of vivid images into the audience, setting the tone for the rest of the production.

The Queen Mary Theatre Company deserve recognition for their reinvention of student theatre. Devised by the company and portraying the hectic interior of the d’Arce household, Houseplay is a chaotic, hyperactive cacophony of noises and visual images. I was struck by their range of creative and innovative methods. The projection of images and hand-made props, combined with a perfectly matched soundtrack, made for a thoroughly engaging 45 minutes.

Lighting was used to parodic perfection, the timings slick and effective. One of the most daring aspects was to have a sub-plot that, to their credit, was faithfully maintained throughout: talking furniture. Embittered and resentful, the furniture concocted a plot to regain control. It was a huge risk, with the potential of diluting the success of an already smooth-running production. Yet for some bizarre reason, it worked. Perhaps prolonged a little too long, it was altogether a very amusing interlude from the more fast-paced physical comedy of the main characters. In particular, the cast must be praised for their blending of the characterisation of the furniture with physical comedy, their bodies writhing in comedic tune with the words of their inanimate objects.

What particularly struck me was how engaged the cast were. Their involvement with their characters was, in some cases, very impressive. In particular, Juliet Turnbull as Philippa, was understated yet effective, her stutter absolutely on point. Laura Peggler, Stephan Ledesma and Matt Morrison must also be given a mention for their physical comedy, their sheer energy illuminating the stage. Despite this, there was considerable over-acting, typical for a farce but in some cases, so ridiculous it detracted from the humour. This balance is something that could be worked on. Sometimes subtlety is more effective, even in farce.

This show had me laughing throughout, the chemistry between the cast evident. This production does what it says on the tin, and it does it well.

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