Pulling off a play about emotional abuse in one single, hour-long act, with minimal props and limited space is no small task. Walk The Dog Productions does not shy away from the challenge: Wendy House by Cameron Harris tells the story of Wendy (Martha Dancy) who meets Tom (Joshua Manning) while trying to sell him an apartment.
The two hit it off and start dating. But while their relationship develops in front of us, we also see one of Wendy’s past relationships from her childhood – a bizarre connection between her and the short-tempered Hugo (James Robinson). The two relationships quickly become parallel; Wendy becomes increasingly cold towards Tom, while Hugo comes up with new ways of emotionally torturing Wendy. Her lack of trust, paranoia, and inability to sink into comfortable happiness are all neatly linked back to her past with Hugo.
The play’s formula is pretty much set in stone: we see Wendy in the past, then in the present, occasionally both at the same time; and between snippets of her life, the lights go dark and the same song plays as the actors get ready for the next scene. The solution is elegant in its simplicity, albeit, it does occasionally become a tad monotone.
Dancy juggles her two versions of Wendy with great skill, especially when the play requires her to switch between two voices throughout entire scenes. The vulnerability from her childhood is echoed subtly in her adult scenes, and she does a great job at presenting the character’s arc in such a short play. Manning performs a rock-solid Tom who is trustworthy and truly likeable. Nevertheless, he has almost unnoticeable moments of darkness in his performance, making his character much more than a one-dimensional prince charming.
The play would have no foundation without a strong performance from Robinson, whose Hugo is not only cruel and intimidating, but also tender and fragile. His complex performance isn’t just frightening and frustrating. It makes you wonder what or who made him into this disturbingly abusive character.
While the cast is indeed brilliant, there is something missing from Wendy House. The link between past and present is established at the very beginning of the play, and we understand this connection very quickly. From that point the play has not much else to tell, and by the end of it the message has been delivered over and over again, with no further development. The play perhaps would benefit from getting a second act to allow more time for the plot and the characters to grow.
Wendy House played at VAULT Festival until 9 February 2017. For more information about the company Walk The Dog Productions, click here.