Public House is crafted from autobiographical accounts of sexual harassment; it doesn’t have a central narrative, but rather immerses its audience in various scenes and stories – and it’s horrible that there should be so many stories which are all so different. Director Carina Harford writes that ‘every time we read and rehearse a story, our whole group erupts with understanding’. I’m not sure that Public House creates understanding, but it certainly fosters solidarity – its depiction of individual traumas coalescing into a group experience is an ambitious and admirable project.
The longer narratives which started and ended the show were startling in their power, if depressingly familiar; the immersive parts of the show, although still strong, paled in comparison. They also, especially at the beginning, were a little chaotic: it took a while for them to settle down into the best use of the space. These interludes were necessary to pace the piece, but too repetitive: each member of the large cast appeared to only have one short scene worked out, and to be cycling through it. Some of these scenes were more effective than others – the ensemble cast’s performances were variable. All of them were, however, at least interesting and competent, and the best were extremely impressive.
The unconventional performance space worked well for the immersive parts of the show, but less so for the extended narratives delivered by the performers. Although these were variable in quality, the best of them were almost indescribably raw and affecting – but the lack of a raised performance space meant that much of the audience must not have been able to see them at all. The best piece of staging came when an actor was lifted fully above the audience, precisely because it worked best with the difficult sightlines. The show’s success meant the room was so crowded that the impact was a little diffuse: this was less important in the show’s interactive segments, but even there the space was too packed for them to have their full effect.
The sensitivity of those running the show to their audience also deserves praise: it was emphasised that anyone was free to leave at any time should they need to. Put on at this time, Public House is a moving and very important show; looking at the huge interest shown by the audience, I hope that it will be put on again – it deserves repeating.
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