Playing Houses is the first full-length play by Glaswegian actor and writer Martin O’Connor. Commissioned by the Glasgay! Festival, the piece sets out to explore the event’s theme of families.
The story is of a mother and her three boys who struggle to cope with an absent husband and father. On the night of the Big Brother evictions, the boys’ father has supposedly returned. But the event is layered with the preoccupations faced by each one of the characters. Their concerns and anxieties are shown to be meticulously intertwined with issues of positive role models, male identity, teenage culture, and the significance of the media.
The youngest of the three sons, Sean, is played by the talented Scott Fletcher, whose striking performance is particularly absorbing. The especially Scottish context of Playing Houses proves thoroughly appropriate to the home-grown feel that Festival Director Steven Thomson seeks for this year’s turn out.
As for the look of the play, the use of very minimalistic decor is fitting to O’Connor’s intensions of a deliberately lo-fi setting. Indeed, this is successful in creating the intended intimacy between characters and audience, which is taken even further by the superb venue itself — a small cave-like room of the Arches.
A number of individual pedestals are installed across the stage, the use of which generates a largely alienating and isolating effect upon the characters, for whom the absence of a predominant male figure marginalises them not only independently, but also on a wider scale within their society. Each actor moves around the stage only occasionally, otherwise remaining confined to their respective pedestals, seemingly condemned to these restricted spaces.
The manipulation of light makes up part of the cleverly structured framework of the play. In a style that is significantly reminiscent of Beckett’s use of lighting in Play (1963), the characters’ speech is controlled by the ambivalent spotlight, which both triggers and blocks their discourse throughout. Each of their accounts is thus fragmented to form a cleverly constructed dialogue. The narrative is cut up and then neatly re-ordered, producing the sharp and edgy interchange of Playing Houses.
The use of authentic characters allows a highly effective reflection on modern life. The intricacies of the staging are equally compelling, and overall make for a provocative play.