Parlour Song

Posted on: 07 April 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews the darkly comic new play Parlour Song at the Almeida Theatre.


Deceit, paranoia and murderous desire are explored by Jes Butterworth in his darkly comic new play Parlour Song (Almeida Theatre), directed by Ian Rickson.

Demolition expert Ned lives in a nice new house on a nice new estate on the edge of the English countryside. He loves his job, as well as barbeque and car boot sales. Outwardly his life is entirely unremarkable. Yet Ned has not slept a wink in six months. He is convinced his carefully accumulated range of possessions from a stuffed badger to a bust of Aldous Huxley are being stolen.

His attractive wife inappropriately named Joy, meanwhile, after 11 years of stifling marriage, seeks solace in the company of next door neighbour Dale, who runs a car wash business. Will these people ever find happiness they seek or is life about to implode for them?

The title of this play Parlour Song is an Anglicisation of a negro spiritual ballad or work song which would be played in your parlour in middle-class England. “I imagined that this sort of ‘letting-in’ o a powerful spirit could create all kinds of problems” says Jes Butterworth.

On the surface this play is impressionistic, playful and dreamlike. Conflict is there seething under the surface, but people seem more oblique and tentative about the desires that drive them. This in fact is a play fraught with a yearning and longing, shot through with loss and a fear of underlying violence, but made more palatable by a mixture of humour and understanding.

Director Ian Rickson extracts excellent performances from his cast of three – Toby Jones as Ned, a man obsessed with mundane minutiae rather than tackling his fears head-on, Amanda Drew as his dreamy, frustrated wife Joy, and Andrew Lincoln as the conventional, dim-witted neighbour Dale.

This is a work which captures the quiet desperation that haunts suburbia’s new build estates but which provides no easy answers.

When: plays until 9th May
Where: Almeida Theatre, London
Box Office: 020 7359 4404

By Laurence Green

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