Sometimes, something can come along that is so absurdly niche that you could think it was written just for you. What this reviewer considers the strengths of The Summer House mightn’t particularly have the masses flocking, that can’t really be denied. With that in mind, there were much bigger draws in town last night – the opening night of Joseph, McFly at the arena… but for those of us fancying something a little different, we had stumbled upon a treat, and a reminder of the richness of a cultural landscape that could look very different this time tomorrow after the Arts Council cuts are announced.
Fuel Theatre’s The Summer House is set in Iceland, a place I absolutely adore and piqued my interest from the off for that reason alone. Throw in a bit of buddy movie, some geeky music chat, naturalistic comedy, Norse mythology and beer in a hot tub, and it was practically tailor-made. Can’t imagine there’s many that could say that, but there you have it. It’s a new production, halfway through a rather whistle-stop tour through the usual variety of the country’s touring venues. Three men on a stag do drive through the Icelandic wilds to a remote summer house to continue the partying. It’s not all what it seems, naturally, and things take a darker turn than the previous laddish messing about would have indicated.
The three performers, Neil Haigh, Matthew Steer and Will Adamsdale played the stag party, interspersed with scenes of them as vikings, a reminder the characters are in a strange land with strange ways, and at the mercy of the elements, the gods – and maybe even more. When The Summer House was funny, it was warm and subtle, almost reminiscent of the gentle horseplay of Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett in full flow. That masculine friendship was played so well. And when the twist came and things became more sinister, the confusion made for an edginess that the audience could really go with.
The set was plain and ugly like an overstuffed garage, full of plug sockets, garden chairs, leafblowers and the like, and became an even bigger manly mess as things progressed. Yet something wonderful transpired out of it all. The imagination of the piece was a delight, as the company defied scale, time and season to take the audience on a compelling journey using the blandest and most unremarkable of props. A strip of plastic sheeting became a cloak fit for a Norse god; a well-timed Bob Dylan track a soundtrack to chaos.
Running for an hour and 40 minutes without an interval just about worked for them. A break might have been nice for this production, but then again it seemed there probably wasn’t an especially good place to put one. It ended leaving things hanging in a bit of a strange place, almost unsatisfying; but came back from that brink by springing something unexpected out of the hat, as it had been doing all along. Good storytelling; even better theatre.
The Summer House is on at the Unity for one more performance tonight (Wednesday, March 30).