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Review of Northanger Avenue by Jack Saville | White Bear Theatre

Northanger AbbeySharing a house is pretty much a fact of life for people that want to live in London. Most people here will at some point share a house with friends or often complete strangers who find each other through social media or various websites. The concept of house sharing is a potentially rich seam for a playwright to mine and writer Jack Saville has done that in his play Northanger Avenue at the White Bear Theatre.

In deepest Lewisham, 23-year-old teacher Tom (Chris Born) has found a great property to move into. The rent is amazingly cheap and the room is huge. All he has to do is convince the current occupants that he has excellent housemate potential. So far, he has met Sam (Rob Oldham) a young vicar with some interesting theological ideas that, if pursued, might possibly stop him becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. Tom asks about the previous housemate – Dan – but before Sam can answer they are joined by political activist and freelance writer Sarah (Kate Newman) who seems to be very much in charge of things in the house and doesn’t seem to be the warmest or most approachable of people. The final member of ‘team house’ arrives in the shape of hedge fund intern Jenn (Flora Anderson) who seems to take an instant liking to Tom and flirts with him by showing the hapless chap her work doodles. Despite the quirks of his potential housemates, and his own gut feeling that things may not be all they seem Tom decides to move in and join the team.

I’ve been very lucky with my house sharing in London as I’ve always shared with friends and have never had to go through the process Tom does in Northanger Avenue. However, friends of mine have and tell me that at times, it is worse than a job interview. Writer Jack Saville – who also directs the piece – puts a lot of that into the opening discussion with Tom and Sam which leads to some quite funny moments in the story. And in fact, there are some extremely amusing and thought-provoking elements in this production. These are really to the fore with the four characters and their total lack of self-awareness about the type of people they are. Nice middle-class youngsters who want to be down among the people, experiencing real life in SE London but who are actually rather snobbish about the area and the people who inhabit it. Complaining about gentrification whilst doing their best to ensure their type of gentrification occurs, then turning on other in-comers to the area and trying to keep it exclusively theirs. Some excellent social commentary from Jack.

With only a fifty-five minute running time, it doesn’t take long for the audience to be drawn into the world of this house and realise that all may not be as it seems. As comments were made and various looks were exchanged from the three permanent residents, pieces started to fall into place – giving a real sense, to me at least, that Tom might be making a mistake. At one point, I really wanted to shout at Tom to run and never look back. This reaction was down to a good script and four very good actors delivering it. Kate Newman, in particular, was the worry for me as Sarah. Anyone that greets another person by having a go about the Guardian and its threat to socialism, is not necessarily going to be someone I would want to share a house with, particularly with the permanent air of menace that seemed to emanate from Sarah throughout.

Overall, Northanger Avenue was a nicely paced comedy thriller that may or may not have led the audience to one or more conclusions. I think my one criticism with the script was that it was never really established why Tom was looking for somewhere to live and why he actually moved in, especially as he had obvious concerns about things. However, having said that, the overall story was pretty good and kept me entertained. I absolutely loved the ending which left me wanting to have a peek in the house tomorrow to see how things panned out. Nicely done.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

When 23-year-old teacher Tom moves to a shared house, he’s nervous to meet his new housemates. However, as he gets to know the eccentric trio living out their millennial dreams and nightmares in deepest South East London, things go from strange to sinister, and Tom’s suspicions solidify as he realizes he’s out of his depth…

A brand new comedy by Jack Saville, Northanger Avenue deals with the pretensions and paranoia of youth, and is definitely not a thinly veiled piece of self-criticism by a pretentious and paranoid millennial.
Creative Team

Cast
Tom – Chris Born
Sam – Rob Oldham
Sarah – Kate Newman
Jenn – Flora Anderson

Creatives
Director/Writer – Jack Saville
Set and Production Design –Danny Tompkins and Lucy Murray Willis

20th-24th March 2018
https://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk/

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