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Theatre review: The Victorian in the Wall, Royal Court Theatre, London


When Dominic Cooke took over at the Royal Court, he said he wanted to stage more plays about “what it means to be middle class”. Now, as the reins of artistic director pass to Vicky Featherstone, comes possibly the most middle-class play of his era - and very funny on the topic it is too.

There are more flat whites, composting bins and box-sets of The Wire than you can shake a Boden-print stick at in The Victorian in the Wall. The creation of Will Adamsdale, who won the Perrier Award in 2004 with Jackson’s Way, a one-man show about an absurd American self-help guru, the play deals in middle-class angst, more specifically, in the anxieties of home improvement.

Guy – slippers, bed hair, ironic Just Do It t-shirt – is a writer who won a short story prize 14 years ago and now scripts children’s cartoons, but mainly procrastinates. His girlfriend Fi works in the third sector (he has never got round to asking what she actually does). They have all the accoutrements of yuppie living but their foundations are shaky. When they decide to liven things up at home with a “knock-through”, Guy is put in charge. He only has one job, says Fi, “to be in - you’re good at that.” If he messes that up, it could bring his whole relationship crashing down.

It wouldn’t be an Adamsdale show if it wasn’t a little off-beat. So during the work, he and his Renaissance man builder Rob (amiable Chris Branch) find a Victorian man living in the wall. Thus unfolds a parallel carpe diem narrative about Mr Elms and his shy romance with music-hall gal, Lou (Melanie Wilson, who doubles up as Fi in an all-round enchanting performance). At some point, in an ill-advised embellishment, an African orphan Guy once adopted also turns up on Guy’s doorstep. There are quirky songs, of which the recurring “There’s gonna be a knock-through” is the highlight – imagine The Streets had they grown up in Surrey. And all of the sound effects are produced, Filter-style, by the cast with bin lids, suitcases and bits of timber to the side of the stage.

Like Adamsdale’s hero, it is all deeply charming. While a little flimsy, it is packed with lovely detail – like the corridor clogged with imaginary, unridden, Brompton bikes and a running joke about a Pink Floyd song. Just when it looks as though Adamsdale is about to bring the whole tottering narrative edifice to its knees, he ties it up in neat, ingenious style – with a song. Immensely enjoyable.  

To 8 June, Royal Court Theatre, London (020 7565 5000; www.royalcourttheatre.com)