Friday, 23 March 2012

Theatre review: The Summer House

If you're going to do a piece about a crisis of masculinity, a stag do seems to be the traditional story to tell. So it is in The Summer House, devised by its performers Will Adamsdale, Neil Haigh and Matthew Steer, and director John Wright. On a stag weekend in Iceland, groom Will and best man Matthew get separated from the rest of the group when Neil, who lives locally, drives them to his holiday home in the middle of nowhere. Once there, they get wrapped up in the untamed nature surrounding it, and the idea of taming nature. But as things start to go wrong not only does nature seem sure to defeat them, but so do the tensions in Will and Matt's relationship.

Billed as a "comedy thriller," The Summer House has the odd moment of tension but mostly goes for the first part of that description, with lots of mainly silly, occasionally violent humour. (Plus an unimpressed reaction to the Northern Lights that was probably my favourite gag.) The main story is intermittently broken up by two other narratives: A piece of Norse mythology featuring Odin (whose all-seeing raven is a great lo-fi visual gag,) Loki and a very windswept Thor; plus the story of a group of butch-to-the-point-of-insanity Vikings, facing death rather more eagerly than most. Both subplots are fun and on-theme to the rest of the play if not particularly integrated into the main narrative. But the performers are very energetic and likeable, whichever trio of characters they're playing.

Michael Vale's undecorated multi-level set looks like it's been thrown together but conceals a couple of surprises, in the spirit of a piece which betrays its devised roots with lots of inventive touches, and props that have to multitask as much as the actors. Its unpolished nature is part of The Summer House's aesthetic, and part of its charm. It's a funny and warm show, and not just because of the hot tub the actors pretend to be in much of the time (the Gate has a fondness for slightly sarcastic pre-show warnings; this time, in addition to alerting the audience that there's "haze" and swearing, the sign at the box office also warns that the play "contains men in bathing costumes.")

The Summer House by Will Adamsdale, Neil Haigh, Matthew Steer and John Wright is booking until the 24th of March at the Gate Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes straight through.

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