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Review of Peepshow at Canal Café Theatre

PeepshowThis famous little theatre may not be directly in the shadow of Grenfell Tower, but then anything that sets out, just now, to show the close yet isolated lives of urban neighbours cannot help but summon that ruin’s awful image. I mention it not to be opportunistic, but because this strange, bold production is donating proceeds to survivors of the tragedy just up the canal in North Kensington.

As opening moments go, Peepshow’s could hardly be more naturalistic. There we all are, gathering, sitting, chatting in the soft furnishings of a pub’s upstairs room when the people down the far end start going public about their lives.

There are half a dozen of them, plus a single outlier who seems to be attempting contact with someone or something beyond the immediate context. Heavens, they’re really letting us in, acting out their most intimate exchanges. Definitely showing not telling.

The six turn out to be couples, in the loosest sense of the term, and their shoulder-to-shoulder jam-packedness on the stage area is in stark and deliberate contrast to their true situation. This is one of a cellular existence, bound by walls of enforced self-absorption. As a result, there is something of a Sixties existentialism about the life-show we are peeping at.

Without being too specific about the economic circumstances which have brought these pairs of people to where they are, the point is: here they are, locked into the units of their living arrangements – passionate, thwarted, dreaming, despairing, all the while touched by a peculiar anonymity which we have brought to the spectacle by virtue of voyeurism. This in itself sets up a bracing tension between the observed and the observing.

One of the pairs, two young women, are working on social initiatives which never come about; next door a man and a woman – again young, as is everyone here – are locked into a cycle of loving, or at least love-making, drugging,
hangovering and fighting. Next door to them is another twosome, moored on the shores of an edgy domestic tranquility but bored into a literal senselessness as a result. One of the highlights, or deliberate lowlights of Isabel Wright’s deceptively sharp script, is a conversation between this third couple based on nothing and continuing references to nothingness. Bleak hilarity in the enactment of this from Austin Caley and Celine Abrahams.

All the while in Adam Morley’s well-judged production there is a kind of music, or anti-score from the players’ phones, coming in thin but obtrusive, and a Chorus-like function from the unpaired resident, poignantly performed by Caitlyn McMillan. Not quite Hamlet’s Horatio determined to tell the world what went on at Elsinore, but still a cri de coeur from inside the walls. “I just wanted to hear your voice,” she wails into her mobile, the little plastic device clasped and cradled like the very emblem of connection.

What does it all mean, assuming it has to mean anything? Everything and nothing is the likely answer; the everything of trying to forge something of significance in a vast metropolis of indifference and worse; the nothing of not managing to. I can imagine these people’s parents wishing they would stop taking drugs and start having babies, and hence missing the point extravagantly.

4 stars

Review by Alan Franks

Adam Morley & Fat Cat Creatives present
The story of seven little lives in one large city…
Tantalisingly revealing flashes of life from a tower block, Peepshow takes a look behind the curtain into a high rise of lost souls.

Booking to 22nd July 2017


  • Alan Franks

    Alan Franks is one of the senior reviewers for LondonTheatre1.com, contributing regularly with reviews for London and regional shows, as well as reporting on press launches. Alan Franks was a Times feature writer for more than thirty years, specialising in the arts and interviewing many leading actors, writers and directors, including Arthur Miller, Peter Hall, Woody Allen, Judi Dench and Stephen Sondheim. He is the author of several plays, including The Mother Tongue starring Prunella Scales, and his latest novel, The Notes of Dr. Newgate, is published by Muswell Press. http://www.alanfranks.com

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