It’s a huge risk putting on a challenging production – new writing, no pandering, paired down, full of questions, ambiguities, requiring a great deal from your audience and a vast amount from your actors. Dirk Bogarde famously wanted film to disturb, educate and illuminate and above all to make him laugh. Fringe theatre at its best does exactly that. The Upstairs Room is well on the way.
It’s not a comfortable tale. Who are these people? Why are they here? What is this room? What’s going on outside? Played beautifully by Anthony Cozens, Gordon invites us to explore the turmoil he’s experiencing. He does it deliciously cynically, he does it with great pathos and he definitely makes us laugh out loud. Finally he holds that mirror up to us in that powerful way that intimate theatre does best – we know, we share shockingly exactly what’s happening and why.
Iris (Lucy Wray) his young guide is a revelation in so many ways. This is an actor who gently leads us in… So vulnerable to begin with yet she packs a huge characterful punch. Initially she seems almost invisible, later I couldn’t take my eyes of her.
Both Liza Callinicos and Brett Jones give very strong performances, bringing body, life, colour and chilling mystery to the piece. It can be very annoying that Liza’s character Stella tends to be sitting so far from Gordon – let it annoy you. It does more than annoy Gordon…
The set could maybe do with a bit of attention – it looks a little too much like a fair amount of resource has gone to make it look like the back of an empty theatre. But that’s a small niggle. The other technical aspects are great – loved the lighting and the additional storytelling.
Go see this for the actors – they will give you a lifetime in an hour and twenty minutes. The Upstairs Room is a quality piece, one I fully intend to see a second time.