If there’s one thing that the theatre isn’t praised for enough, it’s the boldness with which productions are undertaken. It’s a risk putting on a play – there’s no flogging cheap DVDs after the run to try and re-coup costs. You won’t find merchandise like tacky T-Shirts, or flashing headbands like at a musical or panto. The only draw is the quality of the overall production. So, you’d think that putting on a play that’s only once been performed professionally in England, twenty years ago, is about as big a risk as there is.
Well, that’s exactly what Andrew Hilton and Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory did with Living Quarters. And that risk was certainly worth the while for lucky Bristol audiences. It may not have the instant appeal of the big hitters, Hamlet or The Crucible it certainly isn’t, but don’t be fooled; Living Quarters packs an almighty punch. Like a young challenger stepping up to a heavyweight veteran, the new kid on the block is swift on its feet, bobbing and weaving through an atmosphere that’s as dark, and a wave of emotional turmoil that’s as turbulent as anything in the theatrical canon.
Presided over by a master of ceremonies, the action is reconstruction of events. Summoning and dismissing the cast, like a puppet-master does his marionettes, ‘Sir’ drives the events towards their inescapable end. The Butler family are all home to celebrate their father’s long-awaited army career goal – promotion to Chief of Staff and a transfer out of the Irish backwater to Dublin. Alas, tragedy strikes before the celebrations are barely even begun.
The cast are superb, the strained relationships held together by blood are utterly believable. Hilton makes full use of the theatre in the round. The small stage area is barely able to contain characters as they charge on and off, back and forth, up and down, rattling around inside a pressure cooker that must explode to right itself.
Living Quarters is unusual in its methods, outstanding in its execution, and well worth the time. With just a couple of days left until closing, go and see this play before it’s too late; otherwise, you might find yourself waiting another twenty years for something this good to come again – and a long wait didn’t do any favours for the Butlers.