The Upstairs Room at the King’s Head Theatre
The Upstairs Room, a new play by American playwright David K O’Hara, opened this week at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington. The sound of rain washes over the London of the play in an unending torrent beneath a forest of light bulbs dangling above stage and audience alike as the lead, Gordon, plays out his psychodrama caught between two mysterious women. The action is all set against the backdrop of a shadowy scenario in which something has gone horribly wrong; people are fleeing a city where the rain never stops, and the ubiquitous they are just around every corner, waiting to arrest the unsuspecting or worse.
The show is beautifully designed if somewhat opaque. The action takes place inside a secret chamber at the top of an ageing hotel in which hopeful absentees wait for fabricated papers before getting out of town. A somewhat dodgy manager, played with delightful punctiliousness by Bret Jones, oversees the operation buffeted between illicit guests, tyrannical absent wife, and possibly schizophrenic daughter Iris (Lucy Wray). Together they oversee a sort of liminal space in which Gordon, played by Anthony Cozens, alternates between adolescent notions of love, bitterness, and regret in a maddening pas de trois with Iris and Liza Callincos’ Stella.
This production is most interesting in the moments of action, examining a small wooden box, typing in silence, or tidying up wreckage. Too often the characters get mired in drifts of words that might be more at home on the page than amidst the dingy furniture and flotsam of Holly Seager’s set. The set-up is so interesting that it’s a shame the play concerns itself with what’s in Gordon’s head. The shouting matches are rarely earned and the teenage approach to sex is clumsy at best. It’s in the moments of “real”, when it forgets its voice, that this play catches us up and transports us to a world of tension and anxiety and we forget, for a breath, that we are in a pub in Islington.
Photos: Juliana Vasquez
The Upstairs Room is at the King’s Head Theatre now. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.