Pros: The first half is complex, thought provoking, and brilliantly acted by an excellent cast.
Cons: The second half revolves around an audience discussion that, although interesting, lasts for much too long and diminishes the overall impact.
The play is performed in the Battersea Arts Centre – a stunning, rambling, and weathered town hall. The performance space is hidden away up several staircases and down a rather eerie hallway into an old room. The space has dilapidated wooden panelling and walls and ceilings, which may have been washed with brown to affect age, but crumble naturally with their age.
It’s a great hall for hosting Kate Tempest’s play Glasshouse a study about a makeshift family on the fringes of poverty. The play revolves around three characters that are downtrodden and frustrated by the meagre trappings that make up their lives. As the play evolves, each character makes decisions that deeply affect themselves and those around them, some in a beneficial way whereas others are rather devastating.
The narrative repeats three times, and each time it shows the actions from the perspective of a different one of the three characters; it’s incredible to see the variations in perception from one character to another. This makes up the first section of the play.
After a short intermission, the show returns in a new format— this time the audience votes about, comments on, and jumps up on stage to help examine what the outcome of the play would be had different decisions been made at crucial moments.
The strength of the production lies in outstanding performances from an exceptionally talented cast. Johanna Allitt and Andre Skeete bring their characters to life admirably as depressed couple Ria and Paul and a Michelle Cobb as Jess is excellent as a sullen, moody teenager in a world where very few opportunities have been presented to her in order for her to succeed.
Kathryn Bond plays a variety of roles in the performance, and is fantastic at thinking on her feet. She excels in the second half when the performance moves towards improvisation. The actors are skilled at drawing empathy, and the audience really seems to be rooting for the characters.
The drawback of the performance is that it is truly one of two halves. The first half is energetic and deeply moving. The second becomes clumsy and comical, which jars with the emotional subject matter at hand. It takes too long to revisit the scenes with the audience’s help, and even with going drastically over the running time, we don’t manage to finish the analysis. It lasts far longer than it should— the evening is advertised as two hours but in actual fact it ran to nearly three on my visit.
The cast and production have their hearts so firmly in the right place, which makes the interactive section that much more disappointing. There is so much to love about this performance, and the emphasis on making good life choices make it an excellent play for young adults, but be warned, there’s quite a bit of swearing.
There’s a lot to learn about the human condition, both from those on the stage and also from reading through the program about the incredible work that Cardboard Citizens does—including that they employ actors with experience of homelessness.
It’s a long night, but one that will certainly stay with you— and after seeing this, I would absolutely see another Cardboard Citizens production. They really are doing something special.
Author: Kate Tempest
Director: Adrian Jackson
Producer: Cardboard Citizens
Booking Until: March 15th 2014
Box Office: 020 7223 2223
Booking Link: https://www.bac.org.uk/content/31430/see_whats_on/current_shows/cook_up/glasshouse