views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Open House
Brunswick House
4th October 2012

★★★★★

In the middle of the huge, imposing and charmless St. George Wharf sits an absolute treasure, a totally out-of-place property that is quintessentially British. Brunswick House, or Belmont House as it was originally known, has a past as interesting as the building itself. Nice Work If You Can Get It has exploited its rich history to present a site-specific piece of theatre that perfectly encapsulates the unusual, interesting and charming building.

This is where it gets difficult for me. I really don't want to give away too much, lest they be back at the Lassco building for another run. But it begins with cheeky cockney rogue Alfred Bud welcoming you to the building, and the announcement that, by the end of the tour, one of us would hold the deeds to the house. This mixing of reality (Bud was a real figure who fled to Spain after forging his colleagues' signatures and selling the property to developers) and theatre was only the tip of the iceberg as to the brilliant madness of what was to come.

Taking in the time it was home to the Temperance Society, the railway men's club, a police surveillance point and wild parties, the non-linear vignettes never felt confusing and were always perfectly complementary. Guided by a cast of bizarre, whimsical figures, it provided laughs, drama, interaction and the warm, giddy feeling of being in on a secret. Its current use as an antiques centre added to the mystery and wonder, the ramshackle and eclectic objects giving a perfect background to the old ghosts.

Of course, the great cast helped immeasurably, with John Holt Roberts a keen improviser as Bud, in the thankless task of being the first to shepherd the unknowing and slightly baffled audience around the house. His warm presence lulled you into a sense of safety and normality, making what followed even more bizarre. Kristoffer Hubbal's physical comedy was also marvellous and rising star Chloe Ward was a welcome addition in playing that uniquely English type of battiness. But it does a disservice to the cast to single anyone out, though, as they were all magical.

Directors Madelaine Ryan and Hannah Howard have put an incredible amount of effort and thought into the production, and it shows. There were two occasions where we weren't as clearly led as we possibly could have been (following a scene between The Duke of Brunswick and following the final scene) but given that I was in the first group, it's hardly worth worrying about. What the piece did, in spades, was to make us truly appreciate the pockets of odd, anachronistic wonder hidden in plain view and hunger to read more deeply into the history of the site.

Given the small-scale audiences and the 'there today, gone tomorrow' nature of the production, I felt as if I had wandered into something really special. I feel a great sense of privilege being part of Nice Work's tour, and hope their next piece isn't too far away as it will no doubt be another gem.

Open House ran from 4th to 5th October 2012 at Brunswick House.

Nearest tube station: Vauxhall (Victoria)



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