Guest reviewer: Ellen Casey
The Good Landlord starts with the promise of the impossible: a flat in central London for £800 pounds all in. Just the mention of this tempting offer raised a knowing chuckle from the audience, because we all know – there’s no way this doesn’t come with strings.
These particular strings soon become abundantly clear; the view of Big Ben comes with the small cost of Ed and Tom (the prospective tenants) having their every move monitored via camera by an omnipresent ‘Landlord’. When your every move is being watched how will you react? And how can it affect the watcher?
The cutting glances between Clarissa (the estate agent who knows more than she’s letting on) and Bryony (her erstwhile, soft-hearted assistant) rank among the best moments in the play; they ramp up the crackling tension as far as it will go and the result is electric even in the Cavern that houses the performance. Any time they’re on stage the performance reaches the heights that it feels like could have been possible throughout the play.
There’s some interesting themes explored here – the monitored society we live in, how beholden young people are to the people who hold the purse strings, as well as the loneliness that can accompany such constant performance. When these are on point (Ed tries to hide under a bench in Tooting while Tom bellows, “You idiot! There’s a camera trained right at you!”) but in an hour-long performance, so many intertwining threads can start to swallow each other. The nanny state aspect could have also been handled with slightly more finesse – the outright references to Orwell feel a little clunky and on the nose.
There’s next to no staging here – in fact there’s one lone chair in a circle which functions as setting. There’s probably something else that could have been done to enhance the sense of menace – in fact I’ve seen plays during the Vault Festival that have made do with very little, cardboard boxes and fitted sheets featuring high in the roster. There’s some clever use of light – a Skype call conducted in a circle of light and darkness, some intensifying spotlights to denote slight mental breakdown. However, I was still left with a feeling of sparsity.
My verdict? An interesting concept, but overstuffed and slightly rocky in places.
The Good Landlord ran at the VAULT Festival until 10 February 2019.