The Almeida theatre is transformed into the leafy, claustrophobic world of suburbia for Jez Butterworth’s new comedy Parlour Song, where behind the twitching lace curtains of your neighbours’ homes, everything is not as it seems.
“It started small”, Dale, the play’s narrator, announces to the audience at the beginning of the play, referring to the series of events which are about to unfold before us. Dale’s neighbour Ned has been suffering from a reoccurring dream which has forced him to spend night after night pacing the house in an attempt to stay awake – not good news if you work in demolition and are responsible for tearing down the Arndale centre in the morning – and stranger still, his possessions – a stuffed badger, a lawnmower, a bird bath – have started to go missing. Joy, his wife of 11 years, has become a complete mystery and is gradually distancing herself from him whilst successfully maintaining the image of suburban perfection to the outside world.
Stuck in the middle of a hot summer draught, Joy begins to seek her kicks outside the family home, while Ned, desperate to keep hold of the wife slipping from his fingers, enlists the help of Dale to get into shape and back into his marital bed.
Andrew Lincoln as the man about the cul-de-sac, clad in classic Essex casual stylings and gold chain, is an utterly believable and familiar character, who, whilst perfectly happy in his simple 2.4 children family life filled with barbeques and double dates with the neighbours, is putty in the hands of the slightly manic and over-sexed Joy. Bored and invisible in her own life, Joy (Amanda Drew) feels out of place in the toy town of identical houses where they exist. Dressed in 50s style dresses and husky voiced, her repressed housewife persona dominates her desperate-to-please husband (Toby Jones) who is a deadly mix of romantic and bore.
Projected words are flashed on to the simple set at the beginning of each scene, as the bleak doll’s house interior of each room revolves round the stage, the lighting obscuring characters from sight and highlighting the sudden appearance of others, hiding behind closed doors.
Set in a world where your house is exactly the same as the one next door, but everything is backwards, Parlour Song is an observant comedy about the fears that lie beneath the surface and the anger that exists when you no longer remember how you ended up where you are now stuck.