The Quiet House – The DOOR, Birmingham REP

Writer: Gareth Farr

Director: Tessa Walker

Reviewer: Mattie Bagnall

The Quiet House is not so quiet after all. This bold, dramatic piece of new writing by Gareth Farr is brought to life in a compelling and gripping way by director Tessa Walker. Upon entering The DOOR the audience is greeted by a stylish, contemporary studio flat; but fear not, you haven’t mistakenly gone to Ikea for your evening out: instead the audience is invited to go on a personal journey with a couple who live and languish in hope. The play explores this theme throughout with the characters being reliant on matters they can’t control and how they react to the positive and inevitable negatives that this uncertainty provides.

Jess (Michelle Bonnard) is excitable and full of lust. Her determination to have a baby with her husband Dylan (Oliver Lansley) is ongoing but her dreams are fast slipping away. Dylan is facing his own pressures, his dissatisfaction with his work life adds to their personal dilemmas and the audience follows every emotion on this romantic yet despairing journey for a lovable couple.

The writing by Farr is unique. His ability to ensure every scene has a dramatic twist is commendable and with 31 scenes of varying lengths is quite a skill. As an audience, we are left wondering, ‘What happens next?’ throughout. This begins immediately in the first scene in which a flustered and agitated Dylan has some important news for Jess but he struggles to form a coherent sentence generating suspense while we are still learning who the characters are. The opening scene is somewhat heightened, however; this is clearly in an attempt to engage which is effective but which also poses the risk of distracting the audience from the realism we witness afterwards. This is a minor flaw and it does little to detract from the overall quality of the writing which follows from there.

Bonnard and Lansley do a terrific job in capturing the emotion of not only their characters’ feelings and motives but also in creating a connection which is both believable and relatable. This helps the audience understand the joy and pain they experience every step of the way. It would be fair to say that a powerful connection between the two is essential for this play to have the desired effect and they certainly succeed in developing such a bond.

Tony (Tom Walker) and Kim (Allyson Ava-Brown) may be secondary characters in relation to the personal and private journey we are on with Jess and Dylan, but they play important roles in highlighting the external pressures that they face while having to contend with their fertility ambitions. Walker portrays Tony as the stereotypical boss who brings humour with his hard-faced and outspoken demeanour. This is typified with his attempts to be attentive and sympathetic to Dylan’s troubles which nevertheless lack a genuineness which is comedic for the audience.

Ava-Brown as Kim also does a fine role in demonstrating the stress and workload in having a new-born child. With Kim living upstairs from Jess and Dylan, the constant cries of baby Emma bring both excitement and anguish to their lives.

The set – designed by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita – is the very definition of contemporary. The organisation of the design is well thought-out with the entrance to Kim’s upstairs apartment seen on stage. Quick, subtle changes to the set also show the differences between Jess and Dylan’s apartment and his work office. The subtlety is important with numerous scene changes – engagement with the play would be lost if scene changes were more time-consuming. Collaboration with the lighting design by Simon Bond is also effective with doorways illuminated for atmospheric effect.

The Quiet House is powerful and heart-breaking in equal measure. The well-structured writing is complemented by solid performances from all of the cast. If you are after a play which documents the troubles of a couple in modern day society; this is the one. The theme of hope resonates with us all and the journey we go on while living in hope is captured in this thought-provoking play.

Runs until 4 June 2016 | Image: Graeme Braidwood

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