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Review: House of Life, Soho Theatre

From the moment Trev (Lawrence Cole) showed us his tiny organ, the audience were in stitches. Proudly pointing out the buttons built the hilarity still further. By the time a hand had emerged from the glittery backdrop curtain shaking a percussive egg, there wasn’t a dry gusset in the house. Trev is joined by “The RaveRend” – Ben Welch, resplendent in glitter beard and cassock – for an hour of comedic soul-boosting. The RaveRend has a very strong voice, whether singing or hectoring us towards revelation, and Trev provides slick musical support on the keys and a sax. We’re…

Summary

Rating

Ok

This bogus spiritual journey has most of the audience howling

From the moment Trev (Lawrence Cole) showed us his tiny organ, the audience were in stitches. Proudly pointing out the buttons built the hilarity still further. By the time a hand had emerged from the glittery backdrop curtain shaking a percussive egg, there wasn’t a dry gusset in the house.

Trev is joined by “The RaveRend” – Ben Welch, resplendent in glitter beard and cassock – for an hour of comedic soul-boosting. The RaveRend has a very strong voice, whether singing or hectoring us towards revelation, and Trev provides slick musical support on the keys and a sax. We’re taken on a journey from Arrival to Ascension, shepherded along our spiritual path by frequent call-and-response exhortations which the audience embrace gleefully. (Sample: “When I say ‘Visual’, you say ‘ise’!) I say “the audience”, but I mean the vast majority of them. From about five seconds in I realised this wasn’t the show for me, and it left both myself and my companion uncomfortably cold.

There’s a distinct Americanisation to the interaction with the audience, encouraging base level responses of the most excruciating variety. Part of the RaveRend’s spiel is to take us through a Purge of our pet hates. He canvasses the congregation, whose nomination of Tories and Capitalism yield roars of simplistic approval from the mob. Had the microphone come to me, my choice would have been Audience Participation.

Then, in the midst of this frenzy, the RaveRend breaks down. Discarding his robe, he starts talking about “the Dad who didn’t look after himself well enough to stay around long enough to meet his granddaughter”. He repeats this several times and then collapses. It’s a crashing change of tone which is no doubt intended to be profound, but simply isn’t – it feels decidedly unauthentic.

Ever-loyal Trev summons the audience onstage to comfort the RaveRend and sing to him. Sadly, he revives, and asks us how we’d like the show to end. “Quickly” sprang immediately to my lips, but too quietly to be heard above the excited calls for a party or an orgy.

I’d be inclined to treat House of Life more gently if it was a new show – an experiment testing the limits of audience gullibility or satirising cults of personality. But it isn’t – it’s already had one successful run at Edinburgh and is en route to another, so I feel justified in taking off my kid gloves.

When he says “Life!”, I say “Puerile nonsense.”


Presented by: Sheep Soup

House of Life has completed its current run at Soho Theatre. It plays Underbelly Cowgate as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Further information and tickets available here.

About Nathan Blue

Nathan is a writer, painter and semi-professional fencer. He fell in love with theatre at an early age, when his parents took him to an open air production of Macbeth and he refused to leave even when it poured with rain and the rest of the audience abandoned ship. Since then he has developed an eclectic taste in live performance and attends as many new shows as he can, while also striving to find time to complete his PhD on The Misogyny of Jane Austen.