“What’s He Building In There?” by Dominic di Rollo

at Zoo, Sunday 12th August 2012

At first glance, STaG’s What’s He Building in There seems to be little more than a play about a man who is a little bit too much in love with a chair. After closer examination, however, Dominic Di Rollo’s text is an absurdist comedy detailing the precedence of commerce and industry over craft and privacy, detailing how this affects love and the home.

Di Rollo’s play follows the Carpenter’s struggle to maintain control of his life without succumbing to the whim of his wife, his friend and his new boss. His love for the chair he has made holds him back from this new life, showing the importance of stability in an instable world. The playwright directs his actors in a style reminiscent of Berkoff, complete with stylised movement and make-up. This complements the writing, which is clearly influenced by Pinter (especially in the interview scene), creating a tone which, though dark, feels both theatrical and human.

Though the cast could afford to push their performances even further to ensure no drop in momentum or characterisation, they manage to convey the tension which all these characters encounter. Jock Maitland the Carpenter’s Friend and Richard Cullen as his Manager both show disgustingly sycophantic and abrasive individuals and are the sole cause of the Carpenter’s break down. Harriet Bolwell is touching as the Wife, who has done nothing wrong except want the best for her husband and yet is the most hurt by the whole ordeal. Yet it is Sam Gregson as the Carpenter who is the most impressive, as his whole life falls apart. His performance is far less stylised than the rest of the group, for he has been able to fight against this strange world in order to maintain a modicum of humanity.

The joke about the chair being “someone else” feels a little laboured, and the scene leading up to it isn’t quite in keeping with the rest of the piece (though Daniel Mackay’s distorted guitar soundtrack really comes  into its own here). What’s He Building in There manages to be funny most when it’s not trying too hard, and Di Rollo’s direction supports his script in this respect, finding humour where perhaps it’s not evident textually. This is an intelligent, perhaps even satirical, piece of absurdist comedy which says more about us than we’d care to admit.

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