The London Horror Festival runs at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden, north London, throughout October.
Siblings Joanna and Lawrence live in 1950s New York City, a place brimming with promise and excitement for its younger residents. They don’t take advantage of it, though. Lawrence never leaves their little apartment; instead he lives vicariously through Joanna’s “adventures” to the market and her encounters in the corridor with their landlady “Pruneface” who has said they need to move out soon. Pruneface doesn’t like that Joanna’s pregnant, and with good reason.
It’s Lawrence’s baby and the two refer to each other as husband and wife as often as they do brother and sister. Home Free!, whilst not a scary addition to the London Horror Festival, is a disturbing, excellently performed one-act showing the forgotten and invisible underbelly of an otherwise glamourous city. Untreated mental illness and agoraphobia has enormous consequences for these two innocent twenty-somethings, with Home Free! raising bigger questions about societies that let such a pair slide, unnoticed and unsupported, into catastrophe.
Lanford Wilson’s dialogue is deliberately circular and repetitive, serving to emphasise the cycle of fear that dominates Joanna and Lawrence’s lives. Though necessary, the repetition becomes predictable but this is fortunately a play in a single act. Wilson fully forms the imaginary friends the two have, Claypole and Edna, and Lawrence truly believes they are real – an unsettling device with a surprising impact on the play’s climax. Wilson was one of the pioneers of the New York City fringe theatre scene in the 1960s and it shows in this well-formed play, perfect for a tiny venue like the Etcetera.
This two-hander is adeptly handled by Lindsey Huebner and Rob Peacock, with direction by Courtney Larkin. Larkin focuses on Lawrence’s childlike mannerisms and instinct to see everything in his world as something to play with, occasionally emerging as aggressive attempts to get Joanna into bed despite her protestations. The two have some genuinely sweet moments, particularly when they give each other gifts from their “surprise box” that lives on the bookcase, made all the more unnerving by the awareness that they are brother and sister.
International company Theatrum Veritatus seeks to merge North American and British theatre traditions through their productions, a worthwhile effort in this American play performed in a pub theatre – a quintessential British venue. This production of Home Free! is a good one of a play rarely-staged here, but it’s inclusion in the London Horror Festival is an interesting choice. The horror this play contains is not the kind most familiar to Halloween. There are no ghosts, gouls, or things that go bump in the night. Instead, there’s incest, pathology and no support structure for vulnerable young people. Now that’s a truly frightening thing to imagine.
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