Presented by the Ovalhouse Theatre
Pros: An ideal platform for showcasing young talent.
Cons: The site specific setup was clumsy and contributed little to the production.
Our Verdict: A good idea for a production, but one which needed more engaging performances and more appropriate spaces to work to its full potential.
Having seen two fantastic youth performances at the Ovalhouse Theatre, I was happy to return in the long-awaited sunshine to see Around the House. The theatre is committed to celebrating the talent of London’s young theatrical protégés, and Around the House was a series of short plays specially commissioned for the Speak for Yourself project, run in collaboration with English PEN. As a site specific piece, it was performed in ‘every nook and cranny’ of the Ovalhouse itself, including the main bar area, a garden space and a (very small) dressing room.
Each of the six pieces performed in Around the House had been written and directed by different young artists, some of whom showed great promise in their work. Of these, the most impressive was the opening work of Rebecca David and Rebecca Hill, whose piece Half-Way toyed with the comfort levels of audience members by turning them into a tour group being shown around a psychiatric institute. All seems to be well until a patient runs in screaming and debate breaks out as to whether or not she should be sedated. All the while one of the doctors – named simply one, two, three and four – apologise to the audience for the scene: “We’re so sorry you have to see this”. With its effective direction making good use of the performance space, inventive script and the strong acting, Half-Way set a high precedent for the evening which, with one exception, was not met by any of the subsequent performances.
The other play which stood out was out as engaging was Game, a piece written by Marcus Orlandi and directed by Blythe Stewart that depicts a silent fight between a man and a woman. The piece was highly engaging, predominantly because it was entertaining trying to figure out what on earth was happening. To the disconcerting music of John Cage, the two characters almost danced their argument, using fluid movements and pieces of furniture to convey the hostility between them. They eventually battled it out with an arm wrestle, lost by Melissa Oden, who was promptly tied to a chair by her counterpart Leiron Gibson and plastered with what appeared to be custard. To me, it looked like an interpretation of the force-feeding imposed upon Suffragettes during their imprisonments, the spreading of custard centring on her mouth. The silence of the actors, however, left the piece entirely open to interpretation, which was intriguing to say the least.
A big drawback of Around the House was its site-specific nature. While it was an innovative use of the theatre itself, the locations we were walked to contributed little to the pieces themselves, and in fact weakened them at multiple points. Spice, a dialogue between a young man and a woman he’s approached at a bus stop and started pulling moves on, was set just outside of the theatre in a small garden space. While standing outside was emphatic of the fact the play was set outside, the two chairs in the middle of the greenery were no more indicative of a bus stop than a stage would have been, and the noise of the main road right next to us almost completely drowned out the voice of Nicola Taylor – a shame, as her performance appeared to be an entertainingly witty one. Elsewhere, we were herded into a dressing room space too small for the audience; one lady in a wheelchair amongst the crowd had immense difficulty navigating her way in the tight space, and indeed was excluded from the last of the six plays as there was no lift access.
On the whole, Around the House is built upon a wonderful concept, and Ovalhouse’s dedication to the promotion of young talent is refreshing and very exciting to be around. This production, however, lacked the momentum and energy of productions I’ve seen previously and, at the end of the forty minute tour of the theatre, I was left with no great sense of fulfilment and was pleased to be back out in the sunshine.
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Around the House runs at the Ovalhouse Theatre until 27th April 2013.