Pros: Great writing, compelling themes, strong stage design.
Cons: The constraints of the venue affected the success of the performance. More depth of character is also needed at times.
The premise of Back Door captivated me instantly. An adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, set in the 1920’s. It held a strong female lead and as described on the flyer, was a cross-dressing enigma. As a Hitchcock fan, I knew I had to see this.
The overarching narrative of the play certainly parallels the original film, but is far from a simple re-telling of the story. On the contrary, it has been cleverly reworked to bring to light a number of compelling contemporary themes. Particularly strong is the exploration of gender roles and identity. Laura Louise Baker plays the lead, Tabitha Montgomery, a strong female journalist. She is supported by Polis Loizou as John, her more subservient ‘houseboy’ in addition to Violette (Jaacq Hugo) their neighbour, a cross-dressing performance artist. Violette’s sense of identity becomes an obsession for Montgomery, after she believes she has witnessed Violette commit murder.
The script is superbly written, a well-balanced combination and layering of ideas and themes with subtle and enjoyable references for the Hitchcock fans amongst the audience (watch out for the use of flash bulbs!). I felt however, that the writing was occasionally let down by parts of the and sometimes by the logistics of the venue itself. The actors lines sometimes felt rushed and delivered with the same level of energy and intensity throughout each scene. This meant the performance lacked a sense of light and shade, even though the script hinted at a far more complex and intriguing range of emotions and dynamics. I’m sure with just a little bit more variation in pace and emotion, the characterisation could have been much stronger with a firmer basis for the narrative.
The venue also presented a number of challenges which impacted on the atmosphere of the performance throughout. During the quieter moments of the show it was impossible to ignore the sound of loud music coming from the lively pub downstairs which unfortunately broke through the atmosphere that the actors had created. There were also some technical difficulties with a series of films that were shown. They were projected half on the set and half on the back wall, making them frustratingly difficult to see.
The set itself was well designed, combining an art deco style sideboard with three distinct window frames that had the dual purpose of being both the windows out of which Montgomery viewed her neighbour, and the windows into which our prying eyes watched Violette from across the courtyard. The concept was visually very effective as well as including some lovely period touches which successfully set the scene.
Despite some of the weaker areas of characterisation, for me, the writing and the strength of the themes carried it through. I’d be particularly interested to see if a different venue would help to unify some of the elements that, on this occasion, just didn’t seem to come together on the night. If I had the opportunity to see Back Door again I definitely would.
Writer: Polis Loizou
Producer: The Off-Off-Off Broadway Company
Design by: Eleanor Field
Booking Until: A one-off showing as part of the Black Box Festival for Etcetera Theatre.
Box Office: 020 7482 4857
Booking Link: http://www.etceteratheatre.com