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Housemates - The Sitcom
Published on Thursday, 02 May 2013

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3 stars

Hanover Community Centre (venue website)
17, 24, 31 May, 8:00pm-10:00pm, 8:20pm-10:00pm
Reviewed by Darren Taffinder

 World Premiere.
 Suitable for age 16+ only.

Sitcoms are like hamburgers: easy to make, but hard to do right. I’m a big fan of the format, and done well they can be fantastic. All the best examples, whether it’s Friends, Seinfield, The Office or even Keeping Up Appearances, share three main traits – strong characters, a solid plot and a willingness to push a scenario as far as it will go.

Housemates – The Sitcom is almost there, and its premise is strong, but in the end it doesn’t quite deliver. The show is about a group of five friends who share a home in Hanover, an area of Brighton known for its steep hills, many pubs, and reputation for being slightly alternative. So far, so classic. The play takes the format of two episodes with a short break in between, and to keep with the TV theme the producers plan to show mock ads for local businesses during the intermission – though sadly, the ads weren’t ready in time for the preview performance I saw.

The actors were all very good, especially Victoria Claringbold as the uptight and slightly obsessive Jem, and Chrysanthe Grech as Ellen, a cougar on the prowl. Warren Saunders also stood out as Greg, the fifth housemate with a secret – especially when he had his moment in the spotlight at the end of the second episode.

Unfortunately though, the writing needs a bit more work, and both episodes felt like they were a few drafts away from being finished. Episode One is about the aftermath of a party, where no-one can remember what happened the night before. After Jem discovers a whip and two empty JLS-themed condom wrappers, they begin to fear the worst (after all, if there’s one rule for being good housemates, avoiding sleeping together as part of a group orgy is probably it). Misunderstandings between characters are a key sitcom device, but here, I never fully understood which housemate knew what. What was worse, I didn’t get the feeling the writers quite knew either.

The second episode revolves around the mystery of what new housemate, Greg, does on his Friday nights. During this episode, one of the characters breaks the fourth wall and makes several comments directly to the audience; but the asides weren’t funny or crisp enough, so I found them slightly jarring and a little panto (not in a good way). Jem becomes drunk on what appears to be one glass of wine, and too many of the jokes were just too easy. They needed to be much, much sharper.

However, my biggest complaint is that it was very difficult to see the performers when they sitting down, which for a lot of the time they were. We were about halfway back in the audience, and my average-height sixteen year-old daughter couldn’t see at all. The producers clearly recognised this problem, as they’ve since contacted me and said that it’s something they’re looking into resolving for future performances.

So, don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot to like about this show. There are some very funny set pieces, including as a laptop struggle in Episode One and the superb ending of Episode Two. But the show isn’t consistently funny enough; the build-ups to the punch-lines need to be a lot stronger. Neat little details, such as titles for the episodes, are missing too. If this was on the TV, I’d be happy to watch the odd episode… but I wouldn’t have it on series record.

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