Saturday, May 26, 2012

Appalling Behaviour

By Ben Walter
Professional Collective Theatre
Backspace Theatre
8.15pm Wednesday 23rd May

Early in the piece, Stephen House's expatriate drifter latches on to a passing comment; a pedestrian observes that he seems to have an admirer. He's talking about a woman who wheedled the troubled homeless man from an altercation that was turning violent. It's an offhand remark, but for House's character it becomes a focus for hope among the dissipated inhumanity of his daily life among the Parisian underclass. The two days following are full of confusion, exaltation and disappointment as he interprets his relationships and experiences in the light of it.

Appalling Behaviour, written and performed by House, is a bleak show. He is energetically convincing as a homeless man, unsteadily proprietorial of his patch, his bag and his rights, tipping from aggression to theatricality, from hopefulness to mockery; his performance has a relentlessness which is softened only by his character's brief moments of dancing. These lighter variations in mood are few and perhaps underutilised, providing as they do a contrast within the otherwise grim production.

The spare set, a gate of milk crates shifted slightly to frame each episode, is fitting, as is the lighting design, but for a slightly melodramatic crimson during a gates-of-hell moment in the depths of a lowlife club.

Less successful is the uneasy disjunction between the overwritten, expositional description and the more direct speech of House's lost street figure. While it may have been intended to provide a reflective, slightly literary sensibility to a man about who we might be tempted to make assumptions, the lack of consistency in language and delivery is problematic and jarring.

Appalling Behaviour is difficult territory; House has conjured something here, but there are many who will not be brought along with him.

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