The stag night: one of the last remaining bastions of masculinity. These days, a simple all-night bender at the local pub will no longer suffice, and more exotic destinations are needed. In this very entertaining comedy thriller, Will Adamsdale, Matthew Steer and Neil Haigh play three men who choose Iceland as the place celebrate Will’s last days of freedom. The men drive out of Reykjavik to a summerhouse where they spend an intoxicated night musing on modern masculinity, love, and friendship.
Interlaced with the story are two traditional tales: a myth about the creation of an Icelandic mountain involving the Nordic gods and a loved-up giant couple, and a short story chronicling the courage of the Icelandic Vikings caught on Norwegian ground.
The play was devised by the actors and director John Wright for this new FUEL production, so a lot of the antics and on-stage relationships were first improvised during rehearsals. The creative use of props and the Gate Theatre’s small stage are testament to this successful method. Plastic sheets become godly capes, a vodka bottle represents Thor’s hammer, and Odin’s raven becomes a bird trapped in the summerhouse.
Switching between storylines, and a seemingly ‘improvising’ could make a play seem haphazard, but The Summer House is, in fact, a very slick and well-oiled performance. Through every storyline the play is consistent, making it easy for the audience to switch between tales.
Consistency is also apparent in the characterisation: wannabe alpha and Bob Dylan fanatic Will, and caring Matt, who brings useful Icelandic phrases laminated in a bum bag, are childhood friends, and have a wonderfully realistic bond. When a small drama between the two polar-opposites unfolds, the consequences only work because of this complex and convincing relationship between them.
Drama and suspense lift this play above the average comedy, saving it from descending into plain slapstick. These elements never fully come to the foreground though: Neil’s burly character, the only Icelandic native, briefly reveals his personal issues, but these are never explored in a dramatic sense and are solely used for comedic effect.
The Summer House is vaguely reminiscent of the recent Hollywood stag night hit ‘The Hangover’, and there is one particular scene that echoes the comedy ‘Horrible Bosses’, also about male friendship. It is FUEL’s effective use of the live element of theatre, through sound effects, innovative prop use, and well-timed jokes that brings the magic and adds another layer to this now-popular genre of male comedy.
Like its filmic equivalents, The Summer House does not necessarily look to make a deep philosophical point: after the climax, the finale song comes a little out of the blue. Still, the men of FUEL are brilliantly engaging comedic storytellers: they treat us to a funny and very entertaining take on modern male relationships.