REVIEW: RAT IN A BOX (Tristan Bates Theatre) ★★★★

Rat In A Box - Main Image-1For the average 20-something Londoner of this century, things can be pretty bleak. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll be aware of rocketing house prices, extortionate rents, matchbox-sized bedrooms going for stupid money and living standards going down the toilet. Hence the creation of Abe Buckoke’s ‘Rat In A Box’, which takes an amusingly accurate look into this world through the eyes of several young characters.

Edwina is unashamedly renting out any stretch of space in her Kensington property she possibly can, with Cindy getting the cellar, Nigel the sofa and Greta in the small – but relatively normal – spare room. Before long, the unpleasantness of this cramped affair begins to surface, with rat sightings and tensions on the rise between the tenants.

The actors succeeded in bringing to life a minimalist set consisting of cardboard boxes and wooden ‘furniture’, illustrating the painful truth that Edwina’s London property is a metaphor for emptiness; a breeding ground for greed and a widening gap between social classes. Highly expressive in terms of choreography and movement, the play had regular injections of contemporary dance, used to change the set around and connect scenes together. The physicality of the play is apparent from the start, with the characters purposefully channelling a (somewhat darkly naïve) youthful enthusiasm and vigour via their movements.

An engaging, eventful script gave way to lashings of energy throughout the performance, with the action consistently holding the audience’s attention. Several of the characters were well-written, particularly that of Edwina, with her highly obnoxious persona and hot-tempered head responsible for many of the laugh-out-loud moments (of which there were several). A shining moment had to be a brilliantly choreographed scene when three of the housemates enter into a slow-motion fist fight with one of the rats – let me tell you, watching a character sucker-punch a giant rat in slow-motion has to be up there with some of my best experiences in theatre.

Buckoke’s script illustrates how humour is an essential ingredient to being 20-something and living in London. With the language convincingly colloquial and modern, referring to common activities such as pre-drinking and the awkwardness of accidental nakedness and unrequited love, several of the scenarios depict the gritty reality of co-habitation.

The play gives way to recognising the social awkwardness of young people desperately trying to find their identities – whilst simultaneously trying to survive – in the big smoke. Not only do they have to negotiate over-priced housing and sleeping arrangements, but all of the other stresses that come with being an adult too. The problems that the housemates face are all too familiar to the average 20-something who’s ever shared a house or flat: fall-outs, money-worries, infestations, and the pressure to get along with those of whom you share a living space with.

A refreshingly accurate social commentary on the current conditions that thousands of young Londoners face, ‘Rat In A Box’ is bold and unapologetic about its modern-day relevance, and sparks food for thought about the state of the future for renters in a blatantly unsympathetic housing market.

Reviewed by Laura Evans