Pros: The acting was impressive; the cast maintained control and stayed in character despite the intimacy of the setting, and physical proximity to the audience.
Cons: Noises from the outdoor café/bar area filtered into the space during the first half, including the sound of a crying baby. It was also a bit too long for my taste.
Spending yesterday evening at The Space was a novel experience in more ways than one. I saw a well rehearsed play that experimented with different aspects of drama, including the boundary of the ‘fourth wall’, and the distinction between the imagined and the real. Before the dialogue on stage even began, the actors entered the room and milled about on and off stage; sometimes chatting with audience members, or pointing and smiling at them. Instead of the traditional auditorium set-up, the audience’s chairs were arranged around dinner-style tables, draped in table cloths. The personalisation, and jazz-club style seating (I’m thinking Ronnie Scott’s but with loads more leg room) gave the space an air of exclusivity, which was heightened by the actors’ personal engagement with us.
In This House tells the story of Lucy Mason as she is tried for the murder of her parents and brother. It moves back and forth in time, interspersed with those events described by the witnesses put under questioning. The play was opened in ring master style by the prosecution and defence lawyers, played by Robert Elkin and Lois Mackie. Both Elkin and Mackie held the room with ease. Their direct address to the audience – who took on the role of the jury – was dominating and slightly seductive. Influences of cabaret were recognisable in the physical and verbal interaction of these two characters, and the resulting tension was both funny and enjoyable to watch.
The structure of the trial was a smart one, because it allowed for a narrative thread that the retrospective scenes could return back to. Slowly but surely our initial judgement of Lucy was tested as we saw the dreadful abuse and neglect she had suffered from all her family. Gradual reveals are always effective at grabbing the audience’s interest, and this technique was very well executed by the playwright Natalie Songer, which gained my interest from the word go.
One key scene that really impressed me involved a dinner, wherein a guest invited into the bizarre and disturbing family environment of the Mason household struggles to make conversation. Ryan Lane – who played the guest – was exceptional here as the keen underling trying to impress his boss in an impossible situation. The awkwardness expressed on his face when Lucy was humiliated by her father felt absolutely genuine. In fact throughout the play what impressed me the most about the whole cast was the believability and sincerity of the emotions they expressed. Simon Kirk was fantastic as the abusive father, he emanated creepiness, and Karen Hill – Lucy’s mother – showed great dramatic agility as she moved between multiple characters.
The downside for me was the noise that leaked in from the cafe/bar area just outside the fire escape. It might be a good idea to think about soundproofing the space more if possible, so that future audiences don’t miss the words from the actors, who themselves really deserved our attention – they were all utterly professional, very talented, and a pleasure to watch for being so.
Music was used throughout to good effect, some familiar, and some not. There was a lot of energy in the direction, and scene changes were executed swiftly and did not encroach upon the play’s pace or intensity at all. In This House was an enjoyable evening out, and is a chance to see some really good acting.
Author: Natalie Songer
Director: Natalie Songer
Producer: Black Balloon
Associate Producers: The Space Arts Centre, Mercury Theatre Colchester, James Linton
Box Office: 020 7515 7799
Booking Link: https://space.org.uk/event-booking/?event=inthishouse
Booking Until: 19th April 2014