An increasing amount of soil gradually covers the stage in The Sublet Next To Heaven, which sees the show’s narrator, Madeleine Accalia, speak only briefly in the first person, revealing herself as ‘B’. For the rest of the performance, she’s describing the life and times of John and Lara (or is it Lara and John?), whose paths cross, in more ways than one, in Brighton’s Preston Park. There are other characters, too, such as their respective dogs, called Pauline and Sally (assuming I’ve recalled those names correctly).
But it’s not just about them – John’s life, in particular, gets rather complicated. Or, rather, it was already complicated but there were certain things he didn’t know about, but once he found out anyway, it was devastating for him. The narrative, as presented in this briskly paced play, is filled with lots of minor details, but told in an engaging manner such that the further particulars enhance the story rather than digress away from its salient points.
That said, there is more than a touch of the surreal about the plot, especially in the closing stages, when Lara and John apparently go into another dimension. It does, I suppose, make sense that they first find themselves, one way or another, in Heaven, before going on to discover the sublet of the play’s title. Quite why Heaven (or this version of it) even has sublets is something I couldn’t figure out: could it be that the play is so full of earthly detail that it is not much heavenly good?
In some ways, it was also like watching one of the last sections of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, where the central character goes to Heaven. In some ways, this show is less bizarre because there is no attempt at visually depicting the heavenly realms, relying heavily instead on exposition. The script makes interesting and repeated use of the phrase ‘not all men’, and while anything and everything that immediately followed each iteration of the phrase is true, whether statements are being made with sincerity or sarcasm is open to interpretation.
Dressed in white trousers and a white top, the former of which ended up slightly stained on account of the on-stage soil, Accalia’s narrator is impressively accurate with timings and the exact moment at which certain events took place. (Certain railway companies would benefit from a similar kind of rigour and punctiliousness with regards to what time it is.) There are some intriguing points raised in this brief show, such as how much and what sort of personal ‘secrets’ should be disclosed and in what circumstances.
The narrator largely has a dry sense of humour, such as when she questions the logic of city dwellers who insist on driving around urban areas in a Land Rover. I couldn’t always follow what exactly was going on – perhaps the plot was too bizarre for my taste. That said, Accalia enjoyed a good rapport with the audience and there is undoubtedly a lot of passion for a story spun out with verve and vitality.
Review by Chris Omaweng
“Lara was statistically lucky to find a man who owned a dog. Because, not all men own a dog. Only 10,302,120. Which is not that much really, when you think about the bigger picture.”
Lara meets John. He cooks lobsters for a living. She likes to kickbox.
B is watching. She can’t help but watch. She’s stuck.
B’s always been stuck. But she’s not the only one.
The Sublet Next to Heaven tells the story of Lara and John (and their dogs), whose lives change forever when they meet in Preston Park and time starts running really really fast. Written a performed by Madeleine Accalia, ‘The Sublet Next to Heaven’ is a funny, tender and surreal exploration of women’s bodies, public spaces and devils in paradise.
THE SUBLET NEXT TO HEAVEN
29 Feb, 1 Mar 2020