Back in 2002, Frantic Assembly put on a ‘musical’ production about communal living in urban Britain. As well as Isabel Wright’s established ‘book’, the music of electronic duo Lamb played a big part – a suitable accompaniment to the choreography and rich in nocturnal ambience. Roll on 15 years, theatre company Fat Cat Creatives have come across the novel ideal of reviving this seldom-seen show. But instead of emulating the aesthetics of its previous incarnation, the latest production (which is directed by Adam Morely) eschews the musical elements to concentrate on the text itself.
The seven-strong cast spend much of the time living within their own spaces (as opposed to having lots of neighbourly chats). There’s George and Ben (Lizabeth Venezia and Rory Graham) who are often having disagreements about George’s behaviour ‘under the influence’, there’s Sarah (Sophie Couch) who has just moved in with her friend Kate (Nicole Michelle), and there’s Sharon (Celine Abrahams) whose boyfriend Richard (Austin Caley) has one set of rules for her and one for himself.
With less stage space to work with, the notion of the characters encrouching on each other’s space and noise bleeding through the walls is conveyed easily. At the epicentre – both in terms of the narrative and position on stage – is George’s relationship with Ben. George’s fondness for drink and Ben’s disapproval of this mirrors the relationship of Dee and Eddie in Vicky Jones’ latest play Touch. Like Martha and George in Who’s Afraid Of Virgina Woolf?, their own personal problems affects those around them just by being in their vicinity.
I did like that the fact that in this version of the show, Sharon and Ben’s suspected relationship wasn’t overtly stated. Certainly as the suffering parties of their respective relationships, one could understand if circumstances brought them together. However, it is worth noting that Morley focuses on just showing the reactions of their previously inattentive partners – the most interesting thing being not whether the trysts really happened, but the intuitive realisation that the relationships can’t be taken for granted.
Casting Caitlyn McMillan in the role of ‘Rachel’ the ‘loner’ has made a perceptible difference in the dynamics with some of the characters. The original ‘loner’ was another person in the play called ‘Richard’ and a lot of the conversation about him – whether said in jest or not – revolved around the stereoytpes of a lone male being a ‘serial killer’ and dangerous to be with by oneself. Certainly not characteristics or opinions one would use with single women. While Richard’s opinions jar with what we see on stage, Kate’s interest in Rachel and Sarah’s jealous outburst now makes sense from a sapphic perspective.
The show works best when the emotions run high and we see a disparity between what we see and what’s said. As an experiment, this truncated production of Peepshow offers an interesting take on ‘reverse-enegineered’ musicals and proof that theatre is as much about one chooses to omit as what is focused on.
© Michael Davis 2017
Peepshow ran at Canal Cafe Theatre on 14th, 15th, 20th, 21st and 22nd July.