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Home Free
Etcetera Theatre
3rd August 2015

★★★★☆

Publicity image for Home Free

Photography provided by Theatrum Veritatus

Isn't familial love a wonderful thing? All that love and support. Unless you're Lawrence (Rob Peacock) or Joanna (Lindsey Huebner) of course. 'Cause then it just gets creepy - not helped by the fact that Joanna is expecting Lawrence's sons, Tiberius and Coriolanus. Or their daughter, Miss Brown.

That's the premise of Lanford Wilson's one-act play Home Free. The pair live in their apartment festooned with toys, never really having grown up. The pair have retreated into a world of play, their only friends the imaginary Claypone and Edna - apparently based upon themselves as children, despite the assertion that Claypone's a mentally disabled 43-year-old man. It's bleak, it's black-humoured and it's utterly delightful.

One of the best aspects of the writing, a sort of Tennessee Williams meets the American Gothic painting, is the fluidity and uncertainty of the events. The pair may be brother and sister, they may be husband and wife, they may be both. The kids may be male or female, their imaginary pals may be children or old. Joanna may have told old Fishface at the market that Lawrence was in Bermuda, maybe the Canary Islands. This constant mutability not only highlights the pair's mental discord but also their confusion of their place in the world.

Theatrum Vertitatus does justice to this for the most part, if being firm on the details of their incestuous relationship. Director Courtney Larkin has certainly lavished a lot of care and attention on the piece and sustains an even balance of darkness and light. These aren't bad people, after all, they're lost, childish souls that have been robbed of their innocence thanks to circumstance. Think a less harrowing Flowers in the Attic. Peacock and Huebner are balls of energy, darting, shouting, arguing and constantly on form.

Designer Marcio Santarosa's set is more elaborate than usual for the Etcetera, with bookshelves, tables, a floor mattress and rolls of wallpaper in boxes creating a claustrophobic environment. It's not too much of stretch to put you in a tiny New York apartment.

In fact, the only real problem is with the jokes, such as they are. They're incredibly dark blink-and-you'll-miss-them affairs. One childish line here, another pathetic quip there. Don't get me wrong, it made me laugh, but it seemed as if I was the only one. It's difficult to suggest a quick fix - playing it more broadly would only hinder the actual tragedy behind it all. Maybe they should just let the audience come to them.

For all there may be a debate over its humour, you couldn't fault the gut-punch ending or the feeling of helplessness as you watch the events unfold. In crafting pitiful but lovable characters from such odd source material, they should be applauded. The company haven't just made a bold statement of a show in itself, but they've kicked the Camden Fringe off in a peculiar but brilliant fashion.

Home Free opened on 3rd August and runs until 7th August 2015 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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