REVIEW: Next Door

Ella Konzon’s Next Door sadly typifies much that is wrong with fringe theatre: it isn’t finished and seems like a messy first draft.

Corpus Playroom Corpus Playroom late show Danny Pegg devised Next Door Theatre verbatim

Promised a script ‘committed to perfected naturalism’, ‘sparadic [sic] disconnected scenes and characters’, unified by ‘similarity of circumstance and the tendencies of structure in the dialogue’ in Ella Konzon’s Next Door, I was largely disappointed that it failed to deliver, well, much.

It has to be said from the off that all of the performances were good – very occasionally brilliant – and never bad (even if David Matthews overplayed his gags). Xanthe Burdett stood out for her dramatic subtlety; Lola Olufemi hit the comedy in the most naturalistic way earning her laughs well, unfortunately letting herself fall into cliché in her romantic scenes.

Xanthe Burdett and David Matthews. (Photo Credit: Amelia Oakley)

Xanthe Burdett and David Matthews. (Photo Credit: Amelia Oakley)

Ellen McGrath and Eleanor Mack were also good but did not really have the opportunity to display much depth or range so rarely stole a scene. Eleanor deserves a special mention for her ‘mother-on-the-telephone’, however, which was perhaps the most (and sadly perhaps only) poignant scene in the piece.

But the script let the entire piece down. I cannot be certain how much editorial control Ella Konzon exercised as the play’s writer, or how much was contributed by the actors through verbatim work, as the play’s description informs us, so I can only speak of the writing in fairly general terms.

Ellen McGrath. (Photo Credit: Amelia Oakley)

Ellen McGrath. (Photo Credit: Amelia Oakley)

Claiming to be ‘a chance to properly unwrap the structure of our language’, and ‘meticulously accurate to the real ways people speak’, this play did no favours for naturalism. This was at best ‘theatre naturalism’, which is overblown, unrelatable (not helped by the extremely short time we spent with the mostly unnamed characters) and did not allow for a single moment of promised liberation or inspiring beauty to emerge in these everyday moments.

Unwelcome, too, were the Cambridge in-jokes, the inelegant repetition and the clumsy attempts at actual conflict. The humour was a welcome respite (when it didn’t linger on things such as Grindr, imagining them to still be shocking), but that certainly was not enough to save the piece. Some of the situations and conversations would be salvageable (particularly a webcam husband-and-wife exchange, a completely silent scene, and one of roommates discussing their unwelcome new partner, ‘J’), but the play as it stands is vastly underdeveloped.

Lola Olufemi and Eleanor Mack. (Photo Credit: Amelia Oakley)

Lola Olufemi and Eleanor Mack. (Photo Credit: Amelia Oakley)

With no characters on stage long enough for you to care about them at all; an audio intro and outro seemingly of couples counselling – which, being kind, I’ll assume went on for far too long at the beginning due to a technical fault – and with absolutely no clear direction or point, Next Door is a failed experiment that does not live up to the claims it makes about itself.

Pop along and see Next Door if you are a director considering poaching some actors for your next play, maybe. If there isn’t anything else on. And you aren’t planning on asking them to write any of it.

2/5 stars