The fact that
Offers at least the prospect of some comic relief but becomes increasingly claustrophobic
The piece opens with Cate (played by Tabby Detroit ) as she kills time before she has to go to work, listening to Motown and waiting for her housemate, Gia (Maria Leon), to arrive back to their flat. It becomes clear that they are behind on their rent and are being pestered by their landlord via text message.
It seems a bit Two Broke Girls until you realise that installed in the flat is a CCTV camera, which the landlord uses to watch the women’s every move. This is an old theatrical device, distilling the threat of what is not or cannot be presented on stage into one object. Added to this, nearly every message received by Cate is read out in a robotic monotone by an extradiegetic male voice. The result is a situation that offers at least the prospect of some comic relief (with the flatmates scorning each message from the owner) but becomes increasingly claustrophobic.
The play is essentially a study of what happens when the sovereignty of a home, any home, becomes compromised and the emotional fallout that occurs when this boundary between the public and private is crossed by something unwelcome. Cate and Gia deal with it in different ways. Cate feels the need to shoulder the burden of their financial trouble and their landlord’s unwarranted intrusions, while Gia tries to avoid the stress and to undermine the landlord’s apparent authority by choosing not to take his attempts to manipulate them seriously.
As we are given glimpses into their earlier lives later in the piece, we see that circumstances outside their control have led them into their current situation. It’s a curious sort of tragedy - they are victims, yes, but never act victimised despite being no match for the abysmal forces they are up against.
This level of characterisation needs a high standard of acting and Detroit and Leon most definitely deliver, the former in particular conveying really well the desperation and hopelessness of the working poor. Leon’s Gia character doesn’t have as much nuance to carry but is excellent in a visceral scene toward the end when the landlord’s demands become more sinister. The antagonism between Cate and Gia’s friend Pen work really well too, adding another layer of tension and demonstrating again the impact that the flatmates’ living situation has on their personal interactions.
For the most part, the technical aspects of the production enhance the writing and performing. There is a bit of trouble, however, with the blocking in the opening scenes with the two lead actors sometimes getting in each other’s way and preventing dialogue from projecting. As well as this, the issue that prompts the eventual crisis of the piece seems like a relatively minor transgression on the tenant’s part. Sure, this could easily be indicative of the landlord’s deranged need for control, but this feels a little unexplained and, as it takes place so near the piece’s finale, it meant that things ended on a slightly deflated note.
Having said this, it doesn’t really detract much from what is an extremely accomplished production. It has some fine writing and performances in a story that demonstrates what is being experienced by people facing the most profound exploitation.