Safehouse 1, London – until 12 March 2017
Tucked between the hipster heaven that is the Bussey Building and south London armpit Peckham bus depot, Basic Space Festival has taken up a brief residency at Safehouse 1, one of a collection of formerly derelict properties managed by Maverick Projects. Sophie Andrea Mitchell’s DRINKS, one of the site-responsive festival productions, is a sitcom-ish, millennial comedy on reconciling friendship with growing up.
Laura and Dave are hosting a housewarming party at their newly-bought fixer-upper in Peckham. The young couple invite the audience in groups assigned to a character, facilitating a quick entrance and a steady flow around the house. After initial scenes with individual characters, the entrance of their old uni friend Laurence brings the action to one place, and quickly introduces conflict when they discover their life goals don’t align.
The four characters are heightened stereotypes along the lines of the insufferable lot that populate ‘Friends’ – you wouldn’t want to actually be friends with any of them, and it’s a wonder they put up with each other. The cast fully embrace the ability to annoy with vigour and enthusiasm, and clearly have a lot of fun doing so. Their evident joy and commitment makes them entertaining, even if the story isn’t executed with detail or nuance.
Mitchell’s script leaves room for improvisational interaction with the party guests/audience, but there is still a clear actor/audience split. The party atmosphere the performers work so hard to create inevitably collapses, though this is an issue of clashing concepts – immersive and interactive work invites chaos, whereas a precise script grounded in reality means the audience will quietly listen and watch. There’s no easy fix other than to choose a different story or format.
Though the story isn’t particularly believable, the production’s not unsuccessful. The conflict isn’t foreseen, and neither is its too-tidy resolution. The struggle to grow up whilst retaining youth evokes empathy, even if the characters themselves do not. The space is used well, and suits the script. Overall, it’s a fun event even though it lacks much substance.