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Prague Fringe 2013

The House that Jack Built

Multi Story Theatre Company

Genre: Drama

Venue:  Divadlo Inspirace


Low Down

 When an architect couple’s house begins to crack, so do the strong foundations of their family. 
A mother and a father (Rob and Kate) struggle to come to terms with the social idealism of a wayward, rebellious daughter who has gone ‘off radar’. While their other daughter is about to have her first child and make Rob and Kate grandparents, they must consider the possibility of losing the home Rob’s own father, Jack, built.


Somehow this show has itself slipped off the radar of the Festival buzz. How this has happened I don’t know, but to say this is top Fringe fare would be an horrendous understatement. Bill Buffery and Gill Nathanson have painstakingly (according to their programme) put together a pitch perfect piece of theatre. In the programme they ask that the audience actually get in touch with them afterwards to tell them how the play ‘worked’ on them. This could make one think that they are about to watch a show which is going to come off as self consciously worthy, but this is far from the truth. I was readying my eager response to their humble request as soon as the curtain fell. The request to give feedback is in order that they may be more aware of exactly what they have achieved after all the caring time they have spent raising this very intelligent ‘child’ of theirs and how they may improve on their hard work.

It would be an exercise in futility to attempt to pick this play apart and say where it could be better, as they seem to have successfully absorbed all previous critiques and compliments to create exactly the play they wanted. In keeping with the theme of the play however I have an inkling that rather than seeking ‘perfection’ they are making plans for a more beautiful and permanent revolution.

The show develops in much the same way as the ‘Play for Today’ shows did on English television throughout the 70s and 80s (Bill was indeed involved in this series at one point). From a seemingly natural and homely scenario we are slowly hippy dipped into a swirling, sometimes surreal maelstrom of raw emotion and shrewd social comment. 

Bill and Gill convincingly play various characters in The House That Jack Built. Gill’s transformation into her daughter is spectacular. 

When parents mimic their teenage children it is usually exaggerated and so far off base it’s not even funny, but when Gill (and Bill) shift character to become their missing offspring it is with such superb insight and subtlety one has to wonder if they didn’t in fact record these exact events while they were happening in their very own lives. It is hard to tell if they are acting as a conduit for their former, idealistic selves or for their own children. And as for their portrayal of an aging and loving married couple on the verge of breakdown, their consummate professionalism as actors (Bill cutting his teeth at The Royal Shakespeare Company and Gill an experienced drama teacher and television actress) pervades every word of every scene. 

One almost feels like they are writing the story as they perform, directing each other with every movement and glance. I walked away thinking to myself, ‘This is how the grown ups do it.’

I cannot recommend this highly enough.  I am now going to write to Bill and Gill and tell them directly how their play ‘worked’ on me;  it will of course be different for everyone, but believe me, it does work.