Theatre review: LUTG’s House with a Red Door

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For the casual theatre-goer, LUTG’s ‘A House with a Red Door’ may have seemed a daunting prospect; a devised performance piece that utilises movement and dance to show a family dealing with the trauma of an impending divorce, where the whole story takes place around one kitchen table. In practice, however, ‘A House with a Red Door’ was a moving, engaging story with some fantastic performances from the whole cast.

It was an extremely simple set, which worked in its favour. Everything was centred around the table and chairs in the centre of the stage, and the cast used them very malleably. Watching it, you felt like the placement of objects had great significance, like where the absent father’s coat was, and who wore it. The father himself did not feature in the play at all in any physical way; instead, it focused on the mother, her four children and their next-door neighbour. But before I go into too much detail it would be remiss of me not to start off by saying how fantastic all the performers were. The dancing was incredibly skilled of course, but the acting talent was brilliant both in individually and as a group, and they all played off each other really well.

Based on what I’d heard in the auditions and from people involved in the production, I went in to this play expecting to be confused the whole way through. I thought perhaps the story would be told entirely through dance, or would be much more interpretive than I am used to seeing. In this regard, I was pleasantly surprised. The opening was completely silent, most noticeably in the scene between the mother (Holly Gudgin) and her eldest daughter (Emma Page) where the entire interaction was made from mirrored movements with their mugs. Because of this, I expected it to be silent all the way through, and so was surprised when there was actual dialogue. It was more like a play than the performance art I was anticipating, with the dance pieces in it serving more to illustrate the emotion individual characters were experiencing, but couldn’t express to their family. And for such a serious premise it was also surprisingly light-hearted in places, notably when the neighbour (Amelia Banerjee) takes over their house. Without such moments the play would have been far too dour, and they did well to balance the tone between the two.

The dancing was often spectacular – there were several memorable moments, but the final dance and ending of the play were really special. Every character reversed, immaculately, through the actions of the day as the phone rang and the mother sat waiting to pick it up. It was fascinating to watch. And while there were some slip-ups, it didn’t detract from the spectacle of seeing it.

However, I definitely felt that the play could have been better integrated. It sometimes felt like there were two different shows happening – the play and the dance. The dialogue and the dances were rarely, if ever, mixed, and while this worked in its favour in some places (which I will go into), I would have liked to see more of an interaction between the two forms. It seemed like the play compromised on playing with its form in order to make it more palatable for its audience. While this is a difficult line to toe, the audience for these plays is largely made up of theatre students or people familiar with the theatre, which should give them more room to experiment.

This separation between the dialogue and the dance did create quite an interesting dialogue between the two forms, however, and in certain moments worked quite well. Greg, played by Santiago Guillamon – one of the children, who suffered from autism – had a fantastic scene towards the scene towards the end where he moved the other characters around and had them speak the words he wanted them to say. It had the feel of a dance piece, and moments like that made the disconnect between the dialogue and the movement feel very deserved. The same stood for a flashback scene that happened mid-way between a fight between the two younger sisters (Paula Kolar and Anna Rose van der Wiel) in which the mother remembered the innocence of their youth. That section, where the only sound is Holly Gudgin’s wonderful singing, really contrasts well with the anger and strife of the present day.

These moments are exceptions, and I would have liked to see more intersecting between the dialogue heavy sections and the play and the dance. Yet the play itself was beautifully performed by all accounts, with some truly memorable moments. As a devised play, it was created collaboratively with the cast and the director, and that personal investment and commitment really showed in the effort the cast put into the performance. It was a small story, but it was deeply moving and engaging the whole way through, and for that it gets four stars.

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