Price On Application
No.6, The Green, St. Leonards
February 21st – March 2nd
Merlin Betts reviews an interactive theatrical performance by Man in the Moon Theatre, dramatised and adapted for running at this specific venue by Lisa Harmer-Pope and directed by Leigh Shine
Price on Application is a play about culture and morals, identity and desire, home-buying and en-suite bathrooms. In the sometimes cavernous space of a quiet house in St. Leonards (up on the Green, heading towards Asda) the cast take their buyer-viewers not just on a tour of a property for sale, but a tour of historical meanings and values, told through the compelling and sometimes terrifying words and actions of a selection of well-formed characters.
The suspiciously late group viewing of the property expresses strange early on, each room gently bleeding a sense of the macabre and decaying, which we largely expect from an old property, and so initially ignore. The leading estate agent (imagine a Victorian schoolmistress or governess) is reassuring with her control of the group and her excellent grasp of modern pop culture, especially the local East Sussex variety, and her Australian accent somehow further adds to the feeling that “yes, this is okay, this is a viewing after all” even as events reveal this isn’t the tour we were expecting. The audience is also neatly conveyed from room to room by a “mute assistant”, not unlike a maid and possibly connected with the property’s distant care-home past. Her gestures and presence provides comic relief and occasionally a spine-tingling drive to the next grim stage.
Dialogue is excellent throughout and, whilst there must be a certain level of improvisation, good writing clearly shines through. The plot stretches its wings to cover numerous cultural and historical references layered with comedy and horror, whilst never losing the viewers in unnecessary complication or forgetting the core purpose. This is particularly impressive, or perhaps absolutely vital in an interactive performance.
While most viewers, sober and in suburbia, would be somewhat sedate at 10pm, there seemed to be ample opportunity for audience participation, as well as sufficient allowance for a more reluctant crowd. On the viewing I attended, the audience appeared happy to stay in the background and this was well-handled by the cast, keeping everyone appropriately on edge, but not forcing them into a level of involvement they couldn’t handle.
I couldn’t help but wonder however, how the cast would have dealt with a more responsive group. Several moments suggested they were all prepared to improvise capably, but also prepared to warn people off or calm them down where appropriate. If there were more viewings on offer, I’d definitely attend again, although that might spoil the surprises.
Leaving the house just over an hour after arrival, I found myself pleasantly confused about what was play and what was strange estate-agent mysticism running riot in a forgotten corner of what had seemed like reality. Did I just see a house worth buying or a piece of theatre? Should I ring up MADE (the estate agent who sponsored the show) in the morning? Would they take £250,000 bearing in mind the state of the property? Would that solve things, like those strange apparitions said? Who knows…but I’ll never view a viewing the same way.
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