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Glass House is not an easy play to write about. In its presentation at the Albany, Cardboard Citizens uses forum theatre techniques to explore Kate Tempest’s story of a fractured family, with decidedly mixed success. The first half is a pretty basic telling of a familiar story: mother, daughter and mother’s boyfriend live in one house, various events happen and everything starts to slide into chaos.

It’s a well-acted piece on a simple set. The cast are great, especially Kathryn Bond’s incredible multi-role-ing as all of the characters outside the family, and all credit to impressive understudy Michelle Cobb who played the part of pent-up daughter, Jess, almost entirely off-book. She creates a rounded, believable, frustrated 18-year-old looking for a way out of her life on the dole. Johanna Allitt as the mother is a nice mixture of fierce and tender, full of fight against life’s attempts to beat her down.

The story and its telling have moments of Tempest’s blazingly good poetry, which ring out with conviction. Unfortunately, this serves to highlight that, actually, it’s not a terribly interesting story. I don’t say that lightly – Tempest’s gift is in taking the mundane and elevating it to a point of fascination and enlightenment – but given that this is a piece told from each character’s point of view, we get essentially the same slim story three times. It feels very issue-driven, rather than dramatically driven. As a standalone piece, the first half is an occasionally illuminating look at three interconnected people whose lives go through various ups and downs, but it has an unshakeable feel of a school assembly.

What I’m really struggling with is what happened after the interval. Using the forum theatre technique means that any audience member can shout “stop”, pause the action and take over from one of the characters. The idea is to explore what we/one might do differently, and whether we can change what happens in the story. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the cast, it swiftly descends into idealistic nonsense – love and honesty will save the day, apparently.

I don’t mean to be harsh on Cardboard Citizens, whose likeable compere (Terry O’Leary) does a very good job of not giving anyone an easy ride – ditto the actors, who are combative and unprepared to take any easy ways out. There’s a sense that the audience is a mixture of those who are naïve enough to genuinely believe that love is a substitute for food on the table, and those who are (rightly!) angry, in a righteous left-wing sort of way, at a government that’s stripping away the support systems that people on the edge of poverty need. It was heartening to see one boy, in school uniform, take the place of the heavy-drinking Paul and suggest that he needs to learn some respect for the women in his family, but a lot of the other suggestions slipped into meaningless platitudes or ignored what we’d learnt about Paul’s character.

Part of the problem is that the narrative doesn’t stand up to repeated retelling, and part of the problem is that the forum theatre interventions were almost all excruciating. To take the character of Paul, who we’ve seen from three perspectives, and suggest that he would start telling the truth, seek counselling and resolve to be a better person just shows up the audiences’ inherent desire for a happy ending. I’m not suggesting that there can be no redemption, or that the piece needs to be miserable to be realistic, but the characters drawn by the audience felt like slightly patronising caricatures, which Tempest’s do not. I’m not sure what the forum theatre discussion brought to the evening, and would much rather have just seen Glass House as a more developed, standalone piece of theatre.

Glass House played at The Albany on 5 and 6 February. Visit Cardboard Citizens’ website for details of the play’s tour.