The Good Landlord
Reviewed – 6 February 2019
“an uneasy story that keeps you anxious about what happens next”
Ed and Tom are stunned when estate agent Clarissa tells them the rent for the incredible central London flat they’re viewing is just £400 each. Tom wants to know what the catch is. Ed isn’t bothered (who cares! There’s a view of Big Ben from the window!). It’s then Tom notices cameras in the ceilings of every room (bedroom and bathroom included). Clarissa says they’re for security purposes: the landlord likes to make sure nothing untoward goes on in the building. Tom is far from convinced. Ed doesn’t mind: if someone wants to watch him, that’s their business. He has nothing to hide. Meanwhile, Clarissa’s new PA, Bryony, finds herself in trouble after she questions the landlord’s motives.
The premise of The Good Landlord, Metamorph Theatre’s first in-house production, invokes some interesting questions about privacy in the social media age. Have daily ‘check ins’ and ‘stories’ desensitised us to being monitored? Are we primed for a surveillance state? In this sense, the premise is somewhat misleading. The show is far more absurdist dark comedy than general social-political commentary. Ed’s comfort with being watched isn’t because he’s a ‘plugged in’ millennial; it’s because he has an exhibition fetish. The mysterious landlord is less Big Brother and more lone perv. Besides the unaffordability of housing (which the play may be one long joke about), writer Michael Ross leaves current issues in the background: it’s up to the viewer to connect them (or not).
If The Good Landlord is not sermonising social criticism, it is a delightfully weird comedy where it feels like anything can happen. Realism is almost entirely abandoned as the characters dive into evocative spoken word that echoes surreally around the Cavern space at The Vaults. Ed’s fantasies of seducing the ever-watching landlord nonsensically overlap with his delusions of MI5 observing him for recruitment purposes. Clarissa bizarrely speaks in screenplay metaphors. Their monologues are tangential crescendos, but Ross adeptly prevents them from derailing the plot. It’s an uneasy story that keeps you anxious about what happens next.
Rupert Sadler’s (Ed) bombastic affect is a main source of humour as his character gradually spirals into the outrageous. Phoebe Batteson-Brown (Clarissa) brings most of the darkness to the comedy with her syrup-coated threats. Maximillian Davey nails Tom’s insecurity, and Tiwalade Ibirogba Olulode (Bryony) anchors the show with her earnest portrayal. Tom and Bryony are caught between Ed’s insanity and Clarissa’s villainy – two powerful forces the sincerer characters struggle to fight. Perhaps doing the right thing is always a losing battle in an insane, cruel world.
If you’re looking for a modern 1984 in the aftermath of the Facebook data-sharing scandal, this isn’t that play. However, audiences who are willing to check reality in at the door, step into a world of dark, outlandish humour, and draw their own conclusions will find plenty to enjoy in The Good Landlord.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Photography courtesy Metamorph Theatre
The Good Landlord
Part of VAULT Festival 2019