Normal is one of those words that can be both a compliment and an insult. It’s something we all dread being called by secretly strive for – whatever we tell everyone else. It’s something that has suddenly become a possibility for the young couple at the heart of Oakley Flanagan’s new play This Queer House at the Vault Festival.
In fact, the show starts off rather conventionally with queer couple, non-binary Oli (Liv Ello) and lesbian Leah (Humaira Iqbal) inheriting a London house thanks to the death of Oli’s uncle. Being young and cutting edge, the couple are grateful for the opportunity to be homeowners at an age where most of their contemporaries are living with parents or have an over-priced room in a house share. However, the house is old and in need of renovation. Much to Oli’s chagrin, Leah gets a man (Lucia Young) in to do the work. She also gets a rescue dog and seems to be settling into a ‘normal’ life as a housewife waiting for her partner to come home. In fact, the house consciousness seems to be thinking the same thing and decides to befriend Leah, leaving Oli feeling out of things. A situation not helped when they manage to lose the family dog. As the arguments between Oli and Leah build, can their relationship survive or will the house get Leah all to itself?
This Queer House is a play that has a lot of potential. I was intrigued by the stage as we entered the auditorium. A door, a window and some moving boxes in a space marked out by a white line. And within that line, a young lady – looking very Stepford Wife-like – was moving around in a linear manner using short jerky steps. ‘Hello’, I thought this could be good. Unfortunately, that opening was pretty much the highlight for me.
There is an awful lot going on in Oakley Flanagan’s script which leads to some confusion as to where the focus of the story is. Are we looking at a gothic horror tale, or a fairy story, or just a story of two people having relationship troubles? It is really difficult to know. Masha Kevinovna’s direction doesn’t really help with a lot of box and paper flinging going on, not to mention a very strange Hansel and Gretal interlude – complete with a very scary face mask – that I’m still not sure I fully understand. The three actors were good, particularly Lucia Young who played a variety of roles, and did well with everything going on.
All told, This Queer House felt to me like a work that was not fully formed and needed a bit of work to tighten up the story and make it more accessible to a wider audience.
Review by Terry Eastham
‘The house is just a house; it bears no consequence.’
A young queer couple inherit a home. A joint renovation project begins. A restless house gathers strength.
A missing dog – A magic mirror – A dream acquired.
As the wedge between them widens, Leah and Oli are forced to take direct action against their legacy.
An exploration of home-making, the seduction of normalcy and the cost our dreams can come at. Award-winning poet’s Oakley Flanagan’s debut play is told in collaboration with OPIA Collective’s multi-disciplinary style.
Supported by Gendered Intelligence and Arts Council England.
27 Feb – 1 Mar 2020