Writers: Allegra Ceccarelli
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The locked room is a useful theatre convention that can either signal some kind of unexplicable murder mystery or, as here, be used to explore tensions between small groups of people trapped together. Creating environments in which characters are confined, restricted and imprisoned allows latent emotions to suddenly bubble over or for long unheard truths to finally be revealed, usually created a new rapport between the characters.
While They’re Out is an unusual mix of ideas that explores how established dynamics are skewed by the arrival of an outsider. No 1 and No 2 are first seen in a living room together, left alone while an anonymous ‘them’ has gone out. It is No 1 who is clearly the dominate entity having chosen their numerical names and setting rules for No 2 to follow and talking of starting a revolution. No 2 is by contrast girlish and simpering, devoted to No 1 although the affection is clearly not returned. One day a new creature is introduced, initially known as No 3 but soon adopting the title ‘Ariel’ and without speaking assumes dominance over the room and the loyalties of No 2.
A one act play lasting just thirty minutes is very little time to actually explore all the elements this production suggests. The acting is quite exaggerated, even melodramatic at times, although it’s never entirely clear whether this is deliberate. On one level it is a basic domestic set-up where one individual controls another, treating their devotion with disdain – what is unclear in this reading of the play is what No 1 has done to deserve No 2’s adoration. A second element is introduced through the idea of revolution and the absentee ‘them’ who provide the food. Is this some kind of Orwellian state that imprisons certain people and needs to be overthrown?
Finally there is the idea that they may be household pets – No 3 (Ariel) arrives on all fours and suddenly brings out more animalistic qualities with the other two, pawing at No 1 before emitting a cat-like hiss, and allowing No 2 to lick it’s face as if cleaning. Now it is one thing to leave meaning open but there needs to be some purpose to the performance and it’s not at all clear what that was here.
There is the nucleus of several ideas but they need to be explored more consistently if it’s going to mean anything to people outside the cast. Even with the most absurd productions there is a statement to be made, but beside the politics of living with others, While They Were Out offers little more than a cursory nod to a number of possible interpretations for what was meant to be happening. A locked room should be an opportunity to create tension and drama but in so short a production none of the many ideas the Matryoshka Company is trying to convey can begin to be explored properly, leaving the audience wondering what on earth was the point of all that?
Runs until: 23 August