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Published on Saturday, 14 May 2011

2.5 stars

Oxfam Shop Window
8, 11-12, 15, 18-19, 22, 25-26 May, 9:30pm-10:10pm, 10:30pm-11:10pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Suitable for age 15+ only.
 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.

I’m standing on a busy street in a massive pair of headphones, peering into the window of an Oxfam shop.  A lady in her dressing gown stares back at me… and it suddenly strikes me how bizarre this situation must appear.  But I needn’t have worried; the late-night crowd rolling home along Western Road take it all in their stride, pausing to admire the recreation of a couple’s cramped flat in the twin bay windows of the charity store.

After all, such licensed voyeurism holds a guilty appeal for everyone.  Trouble is – initially at least – the lives we’re peeping in on don’t seem all that interesting.  She loses her keys.  He re-wires a plug.  They debate the physical characteristics of a certain type of finch, and spend minutes on end talking about socks.

Of course, it’s deliberately mundane.  As the title suggests, their domestic life is a front; there’s a menacing shadow looming over the relationship, which grows darker and more physical as the story wears on.  The exposed confines of the shop windows create a very public kind of claustrophobia, and the last ten minutes are positively spine-tingling.  But it was all to no avail; by the time the lurking horror finally showed its cards, the intended taut drama had completely passed me by.

It’s a shame, because on one level it’s a brilliant idea – doing something eye-catching alongside a busy road is a great way to draw a new audience to the Fringe.  If any proof of that were needed, it was provided by the interested passers-by, who at times outnumbered the official audience.  But the onlookers don’t have headphones, so they can’t hear what’s going on; and because they can’t hear what’s going on, they naturally talk among themselves.  It’s self-defeating – the more buzz this show creates, the more that buzz breaks the mood of quiet menace the actors are working to create.

But that’s no discredit to Rachel Heaton and Derek Horsham, whose acting is engaging and, when it needs to be, intense.  They sold the few funny moments very well, and with more up-tempo material – or in a more conventional venue – I’m sure they could have shone.  As it was, I found myself a little envious of those casual passers-by; as it turns out, speculating about what’s happening behind your neighbours’ windows might well be more fun than listening in.

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