A Small House at the Edge of the World at the Museum of Comedy
A Small House at the Edge of the World could easily sound like the setting of an apocalyptic survival play, but the only thing coming to an end in Chris Lee’s work is the 20-year relationship that once resided there. The show is performed at the intimate Museum of Comedy Theatre, where the audience can practically hear the breathing on stage as they’re invited to stand/sit outside the window and watch as the relationship is deconstructed.
The small house by the sea is a fixed place of stability, far from the outside world and furnished with the rocky, non-linear moments of the protagonists’ marriage. The play jumps back and forth through the highs and lows with just the wife’s costume shawl as a visual reminder of ageing. Character names are deemed irrelevant but their personalities and pent-up thoughts are superbly portrayed by Alan Turkington and Laura Pradelska (returning to her role after the show first premiered in September). They sit at a table covered in newspaper cuttings, leaving their house made of newspaper only to transition to the next scene. Such scenes vary: from monologues to staccato exasperations, to loving moments and strange five minute discussions on the difference between the colours of lemon and yellow.
Given there are only two characters, the script depends heavily on their dialogue. Limited context is provided as they talk/argue vaguely about their issues, leaving subject matters open to audience assumptions. There’s their ill daughter (is she the only thing binding them together?), the in-laws (oh how they’ve always disapproved), betrayal… Some will strike uncomfortably close to home as the script convincingly puts a microscope on a dysfunctional (or realistic?) marriage. Even in the honeymoon phase it’s impossible to ignore the layer of bubbling disagreement.
In contrast to the husband who is chided for being “so literal about everything”, the writing is littered with symbolism. Identified as points of reference, they reflect the characters’ changing feelings towards them, from boats to walking routes and silence. It can feel overly symbolic at times, sometimes bordering on forced. Lee’s poetic writing also makes a point about not being too fixated on the present, as one’s most recent memories form the headlines of their life. Perhaps this is why everything, even beer bottles, is covered in newspaper.
Under the direction of Ken McClymont, simplicity in staging, lighting, costumes, is evident and sometimes powerful here. With a production lasting an intense 75 minutes, there’s no particular climax so it can even be hard to tell which stage the play – or relationship – is at. The acting is sublime and transfixing, however, so 75 minutes later you will feel fully transported to the small house at the edge of the world.
Photo: James Loxley
A Small House at the Edge of the World is at the Museum of Comedy from 5th February until 23rd February 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.