Review: The Sublet Next to Heaven, VAULT Festival

As Hamlet famously said in one of the most widely quoted pieces of Shakespeare, “the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature.” Translation: one of the defining purposes of theatre should be to reflect life and all the difficulties and joys and intricacies that come with it. Indeed, in (the aptly named) Laughing Mirror Theatre Company’s production of The Sublet Next to Heaven, this purpose is fully realised, delivering a piece of fringe theatre that is equal parts introspective and affirming, if a bit weird.

Written and performed by Madeleine Accalia, The Sublet Next to Heaven concerns itself with the lives and loves of Lara and John, from their initial meet-cute to how their relationship develops and blossoms. Touching on their hobbies, their careers, and the dogs they love more than life itself, the two share a love that is a joy to observe… which is exactly what B does. Stuck in an undefined, ambiguous void, B watches the couple as their relationship evolves and progresses, wondering if she will always be alone…

A surrealist blend of The Lovely Bones and About Time, The Sublet Next to Heaven is a touching, if odd, exploration of the act of ‘observation’: both by B and, by extension, the audience as well. Although seemingly a passive act, under Phoebe Wood’s thoughtful direction, the idea of observing someone becomes powerful, shaping not only internal attitudes but also framing and reframing the actions of others: touching moments become sinister and scornful, intimate moments become shared. It is under this under this guise that Wood and Accalia create a framework that allows the pair to start a commentary on a whole host of themes and issues, ranging from women’s autonomy of their bodies to the battle between public and private. Aided by massively by Accalia’s poem-like script, filled to the brim with powerful images and striking nuances, the play does well to offer insights that feel like the beginning of a conversation, as opposed to attempting to be the final word on any matter; it’s surprisingly refreshing to have a production effectively say, “I’m not sure – what do you think?”

Although Accalia is not the strongest performer, she does well to deliver the comedy her script demands: not every adage and joke fully lands, but enough do to prevent it from being awkward. Indeed, this is perhaps indicative of the production as a whole: although some of its edges aren’t fully sanded down (some sections drag, some jokes miss their mark, and some aspects of the surrealism feel a step too far), at its core, The Sublet Next to Heaven is a thoughtful, refreshing piece of theatre that should be applauded.

The Sublet Next To Heaven played the VAULT Festival until 1 March. For more information, visit the VAULT Festival website.