BWW Reviews: THE UPSTAIRS ROOM, The King's Head Theatre, November 16 2012
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by Gary Naylor
In the iconic video for "London Calling", The Clash sing of a city that cannot sustain its environmental and psychological punishment, as rain beats down on an ill-lit barge barely tethered to shifting, less than solid, earth.
There's a lot of that feeling of untetheredness in The Upstairs Room (at The King's Head until 8 December) in which Gordon (Anthony Cozens) is trying to escape from a city falling apart, its inhabitants falling from tall buildings, as an acid rain falls. With the storm scrambling people's brains into madness, Gordon holes up in an attic run by a shady Mr Fixit landlord (Bret Jones), and awaits forged papers and the chance to make a run to America - his homeland. But just before he is ready to take his chances in the apocalyptical streets, the landlord drags in Stella (Liza Callinicos), a woman whom Gordon pities, and to whom he is attracted more than he expects. After some verbal and physical jousting, and just as the two are getting to know each other well, a mysterious young girl, Iris (Lucy Wray), who seems to know more about the two of them than they do, pitches up and steers them towards their pasts.
David O'Hara's claustrophobic play is well-suited to the tight confines of the King's Head Theatre, where the occasional wailing siren reminds us that London may not literally be sinking, but that it can wobble quite often. Aided by photographs and video projected on to the rooms greasy, peeling walls, we discover that the room has more significance to Gordon than merely a staging post en route to civilisation and that the two women may also be more (and less) than meets the eye.
At just over an hour, there are a lot of ideas and layering of realities to compress into this upstairs room and I'm not sure they all survived the journey up the staircase. As the two men Anthony Cozens and Bret Jones develop a nice chemistry, but give way to the two women, who don't connect with each other, nor with Gordon. Liza Callinicos rather fades from the stage, as Lucy Wray's force of nature overpowers the delicate flowering of Gordon and Stella's relationship. There's a reason for the distance that arises between the three, but it imbalances a play that starts well with plenty of possibilities, but somewhat peters out into a ending that we've seen many times before.
Photograph by Juliana Vasquez