House and Amongst the Reeds

London-based Clean Break fit two plays into one show: House, a tight family drama set in a British-Nigerian household, and Amongst the Reeds, a nondescript tale of homelessness, friendship and pregnancy. It’s unclear why it’s a two-hitter and that makes this review complicated: one play is better than the other. But despite a weaker half, it’s clear this double bill deserves your attendance.

House starts slow, and layers on themes a little too thick in the kick-off, but when the three simultaneously take the stage, it’s social realism at its height.

Somalia Seaton continues the great British legacy of social realism in House, a focused but never narrow look at the intersection of culture and family. Pat’s returning home after a long absence, willing to atone with her estranged mother. However, she’s not necessarily the one who should apologise; acrimony flares as each member of family—Pat, her sister, and her Mama— share blame for actions of past and present.

It’s raw, smart drama and every bit of this sad triangle is felt. Director Róisín McBrinn works subtlety in the tiny interior of the George Square Box; a cramped stage begets a perfectly realised East London flat. A clever move, McBrinn doesn’t do the obvious and contrast the humble setting with shouting and in-yer-face abjectness. She puts a dampener over it, taking it off only when the drama reaches its terrible peak. The key thing House does is show sensibility. The characters are so very balanced, so well-distinct, even with a short time to reveal themselves. Shvorne Marks makes a forthright Pat, handling the conflict of guilt and resentment with masterly precision; on top of this, we have Michelle Greenidge. Greenidge gives one of the best performances I’ve ever seen at the Fringe. You’d expect a god-fearing mother to shriek at her heretical, errant child when she returns after five years. She doesn’t. She’s plaintive instead, and it’s so precisely, hauntingly empathetic. For a play that should, sensibly, focus our ire on a neglectful mother, it’s an astonishing feat how Greenidge subverts the expected. Mama’s failed herself and her world; she slumps in chair and blocks the pain out with KJV Bible verses. Even the hardest heart must feel some pity.

House starts slow, and layers on themes a little too thick in the kick-off, but when the three simultaneously take the stage, it’s social realism at its height.

Following this, Chino Odimba’s Amongst the Reeds gets high on its own fumes and doesn’t stick the landing. Oni and Gillian are disenchanted, feral teenagers, squatting in a disused office block. There’s dirt, bodily functions and yearning in the kind of combo found in Phillip Ridley plays, but the work is strapped for atmosphere. Weak characters harm its flashy impressionism. Mobility, race and gender are all at play, though it’s hard to care for our heroes when their presentation is so muddled. Homelessness and abandonment deserve attention; it’s a real shame there’s not much here beyond the gritty set-up. 

Reviews by Oliver Simmonds

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The Blurb

House and Amongst the Reeds, presented by Clean Break in association with The Yard Theatre, director Róisín McBrinn. Pat's back – arms open, ready to forgive. But Mama isn't ready to let the demons back into her home. Somalia Seaton's House is about family, culture clashes and the difference between memory and truth. Oni braids hair and Gillian plucks chickens to get by. Home is a disused office block where the girls feel safe – for now. Chino Odimba's Amongst the Reeds throws light on life under the radar, where being invisible is what counts.