Review: Parlour Song - York Theatre Royal

Have I walked in to the wrong theatre? In the Theatre Royal’s main auditorium the traditional proscenium arch stage has been replaced by an in-the-round set up much more familiar to audiences in Scarborough, whilst in the wonderfully close and tight Studio next door, Jez Butterworth’s Parlour Song is taking a peak behind the net curtains of a suburban estate in a manner that is not far removed from Alan Ayckbourn.
That, of course, is not a bad thing.

This intriguing 3-hander takes us in to the life of Ned, a demolition expert who spends his working life exploding buildings but when he gets home finds that his life is steadily imploding.  Returning from each business trip Ned discovers more of his collected belongings have disappeared, from sentimental cuff links to a lawn mower.
But Ned has more to worry about the mere material items – his relationship with his wife Joy (an ironic name given the state of this joyless marriage) is disappearing too.

As the sleepless nights set in, Ned throws himself in to a punishing routine of self improvement, popping pills in the hope to regain hair that he has not seen for decades and working out with the help of next door neighbour Dale. Unbeknown to Ned, Dale is also assisting Joy with a different kind of workout.
Despite Ned’s profession, this is not an explosive play but is more subtly constructed as what happens behind the close doors in Britain’s bland, clone filled housing estates is explored with dark humour.

The performances by Stephen Billington (Dale), Simeon Truby and Helen Kay (Joy) are strong; and they need to be as the Studio layout means that audience members are not more than 3 rows away from the action.
The multi-tiered set designed by Gem Greaves maximises the space fantastically, whilst Katie Posner’s direction is delightfully unfussy and natural.

This is theatre doing what it does best, expertly looking in to the complicated relationships in an everyday situation raising a few smiles and a few eyebrows along the way.

Parlour Song continues at York Theatre Royal until 23 July 2011.

Review by James Eaglesfield