As we enter Northcote Town Hall’s theatre, it feels like we’re in a display home a few weeks too early. The stage is made up of a sparse kitchen. There are no whitegoods, no crockery, nothing to indicate the type of home or people that this room belongs to. This neat, structured stage soon provides a canvas for the ensuing rapid fire of awkward and candid dialogue that is thrown back and forth between the characters.
We begin with Brian (Christopher Brown) and Wendy (Emily Tomlins), facing the audience, side by side – a couple with varying social anxieties that become more and more apparent as the show plays out. We learn that Brian and Wendy are building up. They want a view of the city, so decided to renovate and add another storey to their suburban home. The problem is, now they are worried about what their neighbours are saying about them.
As they tell us more about themselves, overlapping and interjecting into each other’s stories about jogging and social pressures and childhood bullies and smiling at the right people, we come to realise the extent of the nervousness they both feel towards their neighbours, their home and their own lives. So, they decide to hold a BBQ and invite the neighbourhood into their partially renovated home.
Instead of their neighbours, an eclectic group of friends and strangers wander through Brian and Wendy’s front door. There’s the Soldier (Ben Clements), Brian’s mate and a calm and pensive character amongst the chaos that plays out throughout the evening; Elise (Olivia Monticciolo), a fierce woman in her mid-20s, living back with her parents, but with dreams of becoming a comedian; The Architect (Ben Pfeiffer) eerily composed and always polite; Irina (Natasha Herbert), Brian’s old flame and Wendy’s best friend from years ago; and finally Dean (Jackson Trickett), young, disarmingly honest, and physical – thrilled by thoughts of war and violence.
Within the confines of these walls and fences, and with terrific black humour, these characters’ identities start to unravel and darken, concurrently unveiling more and more of Wendy and Brian’s relationship. Unspoken desires and regrets that are tainting their seemingly clean-cut lifestyle threaten to spill out. The renovations have been disrupted by a mysterious light behind the new wall, a horrid smell and an insect infestation. All are hints that something is not quite right, and like any bad smell and creepy crawlies, they’re only going to get stronger and create increasing discomfort within Brian and Wendy’s lives, refusing to be ignored and covered up. The light draws each character to it at different points, its glow an enigmatic allure.
Emilie Collyer has brought us a thought-provoking and symbolic dialogue on the pressures of finding a space in which you feel a sense of belonging and fulfilment. Balancing brutal honesty with quick humour, this piece will make you squirm in your seat with both laughter and empathetic awkwardness as the characters navigate around each other and their environment. While each performer demands your attention, there is still a skilful dynamic throughout the whole cast which makes for intriguing viewing. Emily Tomlins is a stand-out as Wendy, a woman who is both fearful and bold, depicting her anxiety and desperate lust for direction with delicate comedy and grace. Dream House is a deeply honest and interpretive piece put together with great thought and care. Audiences will find themselves considering their place in the world, while being entertained by the comedy that is, in fact, everyday life.