Is it true that a house has ears? This one certainly does, and having lived through the occupation of an immigrant Italian family for over three generations and 60 years it has plenty to say about it.
As you walk into the cosy space of the 51-seater Drayton Arms Theatre, you are aware of the solo performer, Evie Florence, clad in orange fleecy pyjamas, sat in silence with her back to the audience. The set is made of cardboard boxes, some painted black, others open packing boxes. A front door is drawn on one set in chalk, and a few other fixtures, such as a plinth and kitchen wall clock, are apparent in other areas of the stage. Florence then talks to herself in Italian before taking chalk and scrawling words over the walls: This house and these old stones, give them a voice and what a tale the voice would tell. She then rises, turns to the audience and greets us, as if she has been expecting us.
Florence is the house and proceeds to describe in wonderfully funny, nuanced and often moving detail, the lives of the extended family who have just moved out. Throughout the piece she is confident but subtle, often talking to audience members in turn, handing them props, sitting amongst them. She uses the vocabulary of the house, such that bed clothes become dust sheets and props are ingeniously repurposed, like a fold up umbrella becoming the annoyingly yappy family dog. White lilies are disparagingly produced at regular intervals; most often used as a funeral flower, their appearance is not a good sign. She uses her chalk frequently to draw action or articulate an emotion, but her view is constrained, as her only reality is inside. As the house, she has no understanding of what is outside its walls so her consequential incomprehension of the comings and goings of its occupants is both amusing and childlike in its simplicity.
The House is lonely and keen for company; although warm and chatty she is still grieving for her lost lover, so reveals the pain the break-up has caused. She admits that whilst you want to feel happy for the other party, you can’t help but reminisce about the happy memories and wonder what the new party (in this case a bigger, shiny new-build of a house with – God forbid – an open plan kitchen) can offer that’s better than you. Ultimately you end up in pyjamas, wallowing in ice cream for weeks.
There are so many reasons to like this piece, not least because you feel you are in the company of an entertaining old friend, who incorporates you into the story of another family so that you can live vicariously through their drama. Who doesn’t enjoy being privy to that?! But more importantly, the value of home and household shine through. We are encouraged to appreciate the honesty and importance of a family with all its imperfect and fraught relationships, and the misjudged allure of the latest shiny new thing, which appears to be bigger and brighter. The Drayton Arms Theatre is an enduring supporter of new writing, and I really enjoyed the infectious energy and enthusiasm here from this collaboration of young playwrights and producers. Evie Florence, Raffaella Sero and Ariella Como are also donating to Shelter after each performance. Good luck to them.
Written by: Evie Florence and Raffaella Sero
Directed by: Ariella Como
Produced by: Azdora Theatre Company
The Other plays at Drayton Arms Theatre until 2 April. Further information and bookings can be found here.