The House That Looked Like Hitler – Courtyard Theatre

The-House-That-Looks-Like-Hitler-Review-Courtyard-TheatreIs this what Tim Berners-Lee dreamed of? The internet has given us Cats That Look Like Hitler, and we all then apparently started seeing the face of The Fuhrer in kettles, mugs, boxes, trains etc. When 22 year – old youth worker, Charli Dickenson from Swansea tweeted a picture of a local house that does indeed resemble the infamous fascist dictator, it was seen by thousands of people and featured in The Daily Mail.

Paint Dry Theatre deserve praise for taking on such an unusual premise for a play. We’re in relatively new territory here: so much attention focussed via Twitter on an ordinary girl is worth exploring, as is the plight of unpaid interns and the questionable behaviour of the press. Actually, they’re all issues of such significance that they merit a great deal of our attention and focus. The main problems with this production, however, is that it couldn’t possibly tackle them all with sufficient depth and it wasn’t clear whether they were committed to making serious points, or just going for laughs (or lolz).

As the story is picked up by The Mail, we see the intern struggle to make print out of a bit of fluff in order to please the mean boss. She interviews the tweeter and occupants of The Hitler House to gauge how they’ve been affected, if at all, and tries to establish whether there is actually more to it.

Many years ago I did Michelle, the intern’s “job”. A small Bristol news agency paid me nothing but minimal expenses to write up features for “Take a Break” and the like, based on “stories” like the Hitler House as well as appallingly tragic events. Readers and the subjects of these stories deserve better than a harassed, poorly – trained, unpaid youngster on the case. I sympathised with her and the other characters caught up in it all, but only up to a point. One minute she’s a ditzy, inept idiot, grovelling for a chance to stay at the paper and the next she’s getting all sassy and telling the boss-lady to stick it. Sadly, when we know she’d rather be writing about the homeless crisis for the Guardian but wants to stay at an outfit who treat her badly (and then ends up at the slated “People”) it makes it impossible to care.

Gwynevere just came across as a “posh caricature” but here was another interesting idea: someone so obsessed with social media that she’d move from Chelsea to The Hitler House for the approbation of her followers. It just didn’t really go anywhere other than to fit into the notion that “everyone here goes mental”; an absurdist separate narrative strand running parallel to to social commentary themes.

Charli was a more convincing character but she held it together so well and was so sensible that there was really no dramatic tension here.

Tom’s declaration, “I don’t know what the fuck’s going on with me!” left me wanting to mutter, “Me neither, mate,”
His descent into obsessive behaviour was one-dimensional. There was neither a depth of genuine distress nor comedy. This kind of thing has to be handled carefully ; mental illness isn’t really chucklesome.

There were hints at darkness. Hugo told us about the gallery as if it was some horrifying secret but it turned out to be a collection of “stuff that looks like other stuff”. There was scope for exploring the classist angle to all this; there had been hints, but it too was missed. Similarly the mystical shed was another anti-climax.

The staging worked well: groups of tables and Clives’s sofa dotted about to take the action from London to Swansea and back again. I liked the choreographed removal of the desks and the younger actors showed skill by taking on two different roles. The story zipped along at a good pace and there were a few good jokes. (There were some very ropey ones too: Gwynevere bemoaning the fact that she’d been in Swansea for weeks and she hadn’t seen a single swan, for example.)

Overall I feel this production would work better if it decided where it wanted to be. Either it should commit to total farce and ramp up the silliness with some better jokes or take a serious look at the tabloid abuse of its staff, readership and subjects.

Reviewed by Alison Bray