The Bush theatre’s latest offering Eigengrau is a dark comedy that looks at the somewhat unnatural living situations twentysomethings all over the country find themselves in, with mismatched housemates and romances that fall short of our unrealistic Hollywood ideals.
On one side of London Cassie lives with her Gumtree housemate Rose. Cassie, a tough talking Scottish feminist, writes speeches about female oppression, rape and murder, while Rose believes in fairies and gnomes and would rather spend her stolen rent money on a dress than give in to Cassie’s unromantic ideas about responsibility. In a decidedly more expensive flat, silver-tongued Mark lives with loveable loser Tim. While Mark wears expensive suits and spouts his superficial wisdom like a motivational speaker on speed, Tim cuddles the cat-shaped urn containing his Nan’s ashes and tearfully tries to get out of bed in the morning.
When the two households collide, what begins as a classic romantic comedy – feisty Cassie rejects shallow Mark’s advances and quirky Rose falls for the wrong man when the sweet Tim is right under her nose – quickly descends into something much darker as the risks of living with someone you barely know are revealed and what it means to be a feminist in this day and age is explored.
Penelope Skinner’s play is charming, with engrossing characters and a witty turn of phrase – Mark in one scene points out the difference between him and his housemate being that he makes £80k while Tim makes chicken burgers – but it is also deeply unsettling and punches a cold, chilling blow to the audience.
At the centre of the play’s dark undertone is Mark. Appearing to be a slick, clichéd city boy who meets girls in bars and never calls again, he turns out to be far more cruel, with an inability to think of anyone but himself. One minute Mark is producing sugar-coated fictions to the utterly unhinged Rose or the confused Cassie, who doesn’t understand her need to be dominated by him, the next he is bullying vulnerable Tim and emotionally manipulating everyone around him with devastating effects.
Set in traverse, the intimate Bush theatre is an incredibly effective stage for this brutally frank play. With noises of the underground and train stations played in between scenes, Eigengrau makes you yearn for a simpler life than the ones many city dwellers find themselves in, a roof over their head but living with strangers and still craving a home.