Review: Parlour Song

This hilarious and dark tale excels on the ADC stage

It is rare that I am completely awestruck after watching a play and often will get straight to talking, but after the triumph of ‘Parlour Song’, I definitely sat in wonder and admiration for about two minutes. As ever, Director Neve Kennedy‘s visions continue to excel in this absolutely amazing adaptation of Jez Butterworth’s dark suburban tale of marital discontent.

‘Parlour Song’ follows the lives of two couples who are next-door neighbours and how their lives begin to intertwine in sinister ways. Below the surface of a typical quotidian London married life, deceit and lies bubble into nightmarish visions and endings. The play is brilliant in the way it portrays the strangely jarring horrors of living a completely mundane life and the results of small changes and oddities signifying something deeper and more horrifying. Is it weirder when screwdrivers and cufflinks or bikes and bird baths go missing?

Image credits: Scarlett Ryan

I think particularly for our generation long-term commitment is something that connotes a sort of stifled suffocation that this production conveys perfectly. A Neve Kennedy set is always outstanding, of course also attributed to the brilliant production team behind this, but the way all aspects of a nuclear family’s house were included whilst also making it seem strangely uncanny was incredible. From a full kitchen to a living room, from a bedroom to even the street lamps outside, it really felt like you were in a London apartment. Even little details like the colour-changing lighting and moments where the fridge door is left open add to an unsettling atmosphere that really immersed the audience.

Projected images have been used a lot in shows recently, and the way it was used to project the titles of vignettes into the empty space was really innovative I think. And I hesitate to mention moments that you simply have to be there to witness, but the feeling of dread and wonder when objects fall from the sky, scrabble words appear on the walls and bright lights seem to turn interrogation onto the audience is something that words cannot describe; spectacular.

Image credits: Dominika Baerova

A lot has been mentioned about the dark and creepy atmosphere, but what requires equal if not more praise is the comedic element of the play, which had the audience laughing straight from the first joke. A particular master of this is Bella Ridgwell, whose portrayal of Ned was by far the most skilful handling of a dual character that I’ve seen this year in ADC theatre. Bella’s physical comedy combined with what I particularly feel is a nostalgic and really comforting portrayal of a middle-aged London ‘bloke’ was amazingly immersive, and it is this contrast with moments of utter dread and fears that make his plight all the more sympathetic. And we can’t go without mentioning the utter hilarity and sadly pathetic attempts of Ned to win back his wife’s affection, from his endearing insistence of ‘have another wing’ to listening to tapes about how to perform oral sex.

As the dry and complicit narrator of events, Dale, Ollie Flowers was a perfect choice to portray the stable and yet still unfulfilled counterpart to Bella’s Ned. From beginning to end he guides us through with a cheeky boyish charm combined with a loyalty to Ned that creates a devoted and heart-wrenchingly beautiful friendship between the two. From doing clapping push-ups to fixing his lights, there is nothing that Dale wouldn’t do for Ned, and indeed for Ned’s wife too. This makes his betrayal all the more poignant even if it was inevitable, and his passion for the role really shines through in this performance.

Image credits: Scarlett Ryan

And finally, Louisa Grinyer as the unsatisfied wife of Ned plays perhaps the most intriguing role in terms of her inaccessible thoughts and feelings. She effectively combines a dichotomy between a bored and mundane domestic state of mind with the passion and heat of forbidden love, creating a palpable tension at all times between her and Dale. Her chemistry with both men is perfect, and she manages to juggle this challenge whilst also maintaining an agency of character that characterises her wistful dreams of escape from the claustrophobic life she leads.

All in all, this production of ‘Parlour Song’ was absolutely stunning and one that is as moving as it is funny and unsettling. I cannot recommend going to see this enough, as there is definitely something for everyone to take away from this play, whether this be the visceral experience or the gripping tale of domestic discomfort.


Parlour Song is showing on the 24th – 28th of January at 7:45 pm at the ADC Theatre. Book your tickets here.

Feature image credit: Dominika Baerova

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