In This HouseThere’s a moment in Act One of In This House when, on the witness stand, Vivian Charles succinctly depicts her first sexual encounter with lover Ted: “In the supply cupboard at the office Christmas party”. “Cliché!” roars the counsel for the defence, raising a laugh. Unfortunately, this joke encapsulates the play itself rather too neatly, being a work with plenty of promise in vision and concept that is badly let down by a script littered with clichés.

Performed by the East of England’s Black Balloon theatre company, the show takes its inspirations from cabaret, courtroom drama, Brechtian theatre and the Victorian freak show in its presentation of the trial of teenage murderess Lucy Mason. The concept is strong, using imagery of the circus-esque law courts that is faintly reminiscent of Chicago. However, these varied features all need pushing further to drive this vision home: each element, be it staging, venue, music or dialogue, needs to have strong reasoning behind it and this needs to be communicated to the audience much more clearly. It’s not often I ask for more audience participation – after years of theatre-going it still strikes fear into my heart… – but, with the audience repeatedly addressed as “the jury” and a cabaret set-up, this is a show calling out for more breaks in the fourth wall.

After an attention-grabbing opening, in which Prosecution (Lois Mackie) and Defence (Robert Elkin) wittily set the scene, the script sadly slips into cliché after cliché, giving little scope for characterisation in roles that become predictable – disappointing, given the shocking and complex nature of the issues being examined, which include mental illness and physical and emotional abuse. Perhaps it is this predictability that causes some of the stilted acting, with few performers pushing themselves into high enough peaks and deep enough troughs of emotion. It is difficult to attain such intensity, however, when some lines are so agonisingly stereotypical that there is little to play with that can surprise, move or intrigue an audience.

Overall performances are solid, with Lois Mackie shining as the underused Prosecution, oozing confidence and poise, and Robert Elkin impressing as the Defence. A scene in which Lucy Mason (Grace Chilton) lies unmoving on the table, glassy-eyed and weak after an episode of abuse while her neighbour’s testimony is delivered behind her, is both effective and affecting. Yet elsewhere flashes of something special are few and far between – although mention must go to Karen Hill for spot-on character acting as the comical Vivian – and everything feels far too safe.

Frustratingly, the much-needed boost of energy and excitement comes in the very last moments of the piece, with a nice plot twist and a stirring final speech from Mackie – it is such a shame that this comes so late in the day. Despite these issues, I still believe there is promise in this show. In This House is not living up to expectations in its current state, but an overhaul of Natalie Songer’s script would boost not only the trajectory of the plot, but no doubt the performances themselves. With a fantastic venue – the lofty ceilings and imposing architecture combined with a surprisingly intimate feel are perfect – more focus on the cabaret and ‘freak show’ elements would give In This House more thrill and edge.

In This House (A Family Breakdown) is playing at The Space until 19 April. For tickets and more information, see The Space website.