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June 22, 2009 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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The Clean House

The Clean House is very much a play of two halves. It’s far from surprising to discover that Sarah Ruhl wrote the first half, the first act, as a separate entity before adding on the second half. The massive shift in tone and meaning between the two acts of the play – the first being a raucous knock about comedy, the second being an almost mawkish comic melodrama – is not on paper and inherent bad thing.

Lots of interesting theatre has based itself on moments of massive tonal shift, but in The Clean House the switch from broad laughs to broad sobs seems not to be a decision of idea or theme but simply indecisiveness. The Clean House, and I am largely talking solely of the text here, does not seem able to decide what it’s saying or who it’s talking to. Sure, when it is funny, it is funny, jawdroppingly, sidesplittingly hilarious, that’s not the issue. It’s that the later scenes of supposed emotional weight come largely from nowhere with little foreshadowing in the first act, so you’re too busy wondering whether they’ve suddenly switched scripts to feel for the characters.

Circa’s production makes the best out of this messy script. The cast is luminous, perfectly pitching every joke and ringing wonderful laughs out of mere raised eyebrows or well timed silences. Erin Banks as Matilde – the cleaner who can’t clean because it makes her unhappy – is wonderfully amusing. Michele Amas and Jude Gibson as Virginia and Lane are both slyly brilliant in their comic excesses. Alan Lovell and Jade Waddell round out the cast playing a multitude of roles with aplomb. Susan Wilson’s direction is precise with a real sense of the comic tensions of the theatrical space. The design by John Hodgkins, Ulli Briese and Paul Jenden, is appropriatly heightened to a serene, surreal sterility.

And while it is mildly annoying to yet again hear American accents ring through Circa’s hallowed halls (when was the last time they performed a local work of some weight? Or even performed in their own accents?) The Clean House struggles along it’s somewhat muddy script to a wonderful, if forgettable production. Work a look if you’re on the hunt for giggles.

Written by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Susan Wilson
With Michelle Amas, Erin Banks, Jude Gibson, Alan Lovell and Jane Waddell

At Circa One, From 13 June to 11 July 2009
Book on 801 7992

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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