Much has been commented on high rise flats over the decades since they started springing up in the aftermath of World War Two. They were, of course, considered a good idea at the time, and even with the benefit of considerable hindsight, they formed one of the solutions to the housing crisis in Britain in the aftermath of there being so many destroyed buildings. Trap Street begins with an interesting premise about how cartographers used to insert the odd street or landmark slightly out of place, or not really in existence at all, for copyright reasons: any duplicates with the same error would be recognisable.
But this exploration into mapmaking and methods of dealing with the unscrupulous is not explored further than the show’s prologue. Instead, the show rapidly becomes a story about Andrea (Danusia Samal), her brother Graham (Hamish MacDougall) and their mother Valerie (Amelda Brown), and the fictional Pemberley House on the Austen Estate. The story itself is a plausible one, although it is made unnecessarily complicated by flitting between years with each scene change.
Not everything has to be in chronological order, of course, but it is rather difficult to focus when one is regularly having to keep up with what year the show is set in at any given moment. A small screen on stage must be relied on in order to determine what year it is, and at one point there is a change from 1962 to 1972 to 1984 to 2017 without a single line of dialogue. Even more bizarrely, the estate and its surroundings appear not to have changed in fifty-five years.
Except, as the story unfolds, it appears there have indeed been very substantial changes after all, and the show packs a lot of narrative into a single act. If I were to put myself in the position of someone who knew nothing about so-called social housing – the proverbial alien from outer space – would I understand what was going on? In a word, yes. I might, however, be as bamboozled as the prospective buyer in 2017 (also Brown: all three actors assume too many characters between them to list out in full), who discovers that ‘affordable’ housing in London is, well, unaffordable.
There’s a ‘sensory tour’ that such prospective buyers are welcome to try out, though for the audience this involves watching someone pacing the stage wearing a helmet. Such moments of tedium, are thankfully, few. A near-relentless score, composed and performed by Zac Gvirtzman, need not have been so ubiquitous, from time to time threatening to drown out the dialogue, and, to be blunt, adding little atmosphere or ambience to the production.
For all the personal details about a young Andrea getting into a spot of bother as a schoolgirl, and Graham growing up and going to university (and so on and so forth), the play’s most interesting point was a diversion from the narrative to consider why tower blocks have not been as successful as comfortable living spaces as its designers and supporters had envisaged. The production offers no definitive suggestions as to how to address the housing crisis of the present-day. That doesn’t stop this from being a somewhat insightful and fascinating play, though it could be better structured.
Review by Chris Omaweng
It’s 1961 and the concrete’s just been poured for a brand new housing estate.
It’s beautiful, not because of the clean lines, indoor toilets and wide windows, but because the idea behind it is beautiful. This is the future, and it’s for everyone. It’s 2018 and the last tower of the estate is about to come down. The dream that saw it built has long since died and now the estate has to follow suit to make way for new buildings, based on new ideas. This is the future, whether you like it or not.
The new show from award-winning Kandinsky brings the company’s trademark theatrical inventiveness to city life through the maps that have tried to define it. Trap Street explores a community trying to find its way in a landscape shaped by power.
6 – 31 March 2018