What's He Building in There?

The absurd and often hilarious What’s He Building In There? from STaG productions opens with a sawdust-spattered man lovingly caressing a chair, and only gets weirder after that. There are six characters in the show: The Carpenter; The Wife; The Friend; The Friend’s Wife; The Manager... and of course The Chair. An introverted loner has found true love with a plain wooden chair he has crafted and is desperately trying to hide this extra-marital affair from his wife and friends.

Despite the obvious concern about forming attachments to inanimate objects, the play’s real horror is that the seemingly normal characters are arguably more unhinged than the chair-loving Carpenter. In a nightmarish dystopian world not far removed from our own, all importance is placed on status and material acquisition. There are strong 1984 overtones, as people spy on each other whilst aspiring to remain invisible. As The Friend’s Wife (played with Stepford Wife polish by Hannah Merriman) points out: ‘People are beginning to notice.. It isn’t good to be noticed.’

Although this may not sound like a recipe for humour the laughs were thick and fast, particularly in reaction to the slapstick hilarity of The Friend and The Manager, two characters with incredibly grotesque physicalities. During a perfectly pitched scene in which The Friend is trying to seduce The Wife, Jock Maitland performs what can only be described as a striptease, armed with a slithery tongue that would make Hannibal Lecter wince. When he hears The Carpenter return, The Friend tries to escape only to become entangled with the furniture. He is finally caught in a compromising position hopelessly entwined with The Carpenter’s ‘only love’. The chair, that is.

The character of The Manager, played by Richard Cullen, made all my childhood fears of clowns resurface with his garishly painted face that was mobile as rubber and appearing about three times the normal width. His gestures, not to mention his eyebrows (that deserve a standing ovation of their own), were as rich and expressive as mime; there was definitely a hint of Marcel Marceau about his borderline terrifying smile.

Sam Gregson (The Carpenter) and Harriet Bolwell (The Wife) were more recognisably human and therefore sympathetic, struggling to survive and stay unnoticed in a bewildering world. Gregson somehow managed to make his furniture fetish more tender than disturbing, which was truly quite an achievement. Even The Chair got a well-deserved bow at the curtain call.

Reviews by Laura Francis

theSpace on Niddry St

The Bastard Queen

Traverse Theatre


The Assembly Rooms

A Split Decision

Pleasance Courtyard

Show Off


Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

The Blurb

A wonderfully absurd dark comedy about a carpenter who is having an affair... with a chair. This Lynchian nightmare is accompanied by a live, original score. For STaG 2011 - **** (Scotsman), **** (Herald). www.whats-he-building-in-there.com.

Most Popular See More

Frozen the Musical

From £36.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Phantom of the Opera

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Lion King

From £46.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Book of Mormon

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £39.00

More Info

Find Tickets