Monday 13 May 2024

THE ROOF IS CAVING IN: Theatre Review

WHAT: The Roof Is Caving In
WHERE: La Mama Courthouse
WHEN: 8 - 19 May 2024
WRITTEN BY: Matilda Gibbs with Jack Burmeister and Belle Hansen
DIRECTED BY: Belle Hansen
SET BY: Belle Hansen and Brigette Jennings
COMPOSITION & SOUND DESIGN BY: Jack Burmeister
PERFORMED BY: Joanna Halliday (violin), Daniel Kim (clarinet), Joshua Mackie (trombone), Linus Finn Mackie (guitars), Bek Schilling, Marlena Thompson, and Karen Yee (Keys)
STAGE MANAGED BY: Brigette Jennings

Marlena Thomson and Karen Yee - photo by Daren Gill

Rare is the person, these days, who hasn't had a share housing experience of some kind or another. For those of us who have been there/done that several times over it reveals itself to be a very changeable situation which can include the best of times and the worst of times. You can end up with life-long friends, people you never want to see or speak to ever again, and potentially even situations which include police involvement. To that you can add the many, many permutations of property manager and questionably habitable lodgings you might encounter, and it becomes no surprise that the Frenzy Theatre Company bring us a surrealist montage to explore the experience in The Roof Is Caving In currently playing at La Mama Courthouse.

Riffing off the theatre classic The Odd Couple and following the saturated colour palette of Barbie, The Roof Is Caving in is the story of two students who find themselves cohabiting for the first time in a less than well maintained after apartment complex.  We meet Bronwyn (Bek Schilling) and Hester (Marlena Thomson) as they are being handed over the key by an overly welcoming property manager (Joanna Halliday). After skulling the welcome wine, Halliday makes a quick exit and the two new tenants face their first dilemma - there is only 1 key for the apartment... 

In the ensuing negotiation of who will be the Keeper of the Key we discover Hester is the pedantic character and Bronwyn is the slob. My one big disappointment is that I really wanted Schilling to settle into their archetype like everyone else in the show. Instead, they kind of play the Everyman but that isn't right for the hyper-surreal tone of this production. 

The great delight of the play is the banda/chorus including everyone else in the cast. Whilst Bronwyn and Hester tug and pull to find a way to co-exist amidst unwashed dishes, unfinished laundry, very thin walls and late-night love interests, the ensemble pop up in the shower, the fridge, the window - just about everywhere playing the soundtrack of the lives of these two young women. It is true that their jaunty and sometimes dark jazz is a bit loud in the space but it is so good who cares? 

They also play all of the other characters in the play and they are brilliant. Joshua Mackie's handyman almost brought me to tears with his incompetence and Karen Yee as the neighbour is suitably domineering. Halliday is absolutely terrifying in a bunny boiling kind of way as the property manager and Daniel Kim has found so many ways to use a fridge which doesn't involve food it is positively mind boggling. Linus Finn Mackie plays Bronwyn's boyfriend and he is great but I couldn't quite work out his architype.

The entire ensemble keeps the tension building and the music and dance breaks work well for the most part. Perhaps the one moment it doesn't work is possibly the most important one - the housewarming party. There is soooo much work put into building up the party and the jeopardy the party puts the housemates in, but instead of keeping the tension going when the property manager turns up, Belle Hansen (director) let's it fizzle into another dance break which means we lose the thrill of the crescendo when the worst thing that could happen does happen. 

The Roof Is Caving In is a great script (Matilda Gibbs) and Jack Burmeister (composer) has written wonderful music for the banda and cleverly interwoven other sound elements to create atmosphere as intense and the colour palette. Hansen has made sure the cast keep the pace up and they use the space and their bodies and each other incredibly cleverly. Unfortunately, the show is about 15 minutes too long and because the crescendo stutters we really do feel it towards the end. 

The set (Hansen and Brigette Jennings) is detailed and clever. I would have liked the logic of the apartment to be as influenced by surrealism as everything else in the show is, but that might be a step too hard. How good would it have been with a sideways shower and a bed up a wall or something like that though???? There is no lighting credit, but I do think colour temperature was used well too. This show also wins the award for best and most appropriate use of a smoke machine since the end of lockdowns too ;)

The Roof Is Caving In is a wonderful and fun nightmare which is just a little too close to reality to be entirely comfortable. It is so exciting to have the live instruments in the space and the performers so cleverly integrated into the entire structure of the performance. 

4.5 Stars

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THE ROOF IS CAVING IN: Theatre Review

WHAT: The Roof Is Caving In WHERE: La Mama Courthouse WHEN: 8 - 19 May 2024 WRITTEN BY: Matilda Gibbs with Jack Burmeister and Belle Hansen ...