Simon Ward reviews In Front Of Closed Doors at The King's Head Theatre, Islington.
‘In Front Of Closed Doors’ is a timely reminder of the precariousness of our lives. Even when we think we can predict the paths our lives are on, just one or two decisions or events can change everything, and leave us on the street and living. quite literally, in front of closed doors. What happens behind the closed doors is of course also examined here, as we see some of those events and decisions turn the promise of a young life all too quickly sour and dangerous.
As we enter the room a video on a loop of a child learning to ride her bike with her father, incongruously matched with The Moody Blues’ Nights In White Satin, sets our expectations for an unsettling evening.
The audio-visual work continues throughout, and is perhaps overly ambitious given the constraints of a travelling show which is delivered in a variety of fringe venues. Technical difficulties, or even the anticipation of them, can get in the way of what is essentially an extremely intimate piece. It is, however, interesting to have the additional characters who interact with our lead protagonist voiced through recordings. This adds depth and nuance to the play, and the actors performing the voiced roles bring remarkable levels of characterisation in relatively few lines.
But the evening belongs to Molly Brentwood, as portrayed by Emma Bentley. This is a desperately sad story, albeit leavened by wit and black humour, and perhaps with a hint of hope at the end.
Molly is a bright child who dreams of a future in music, away from the teasing of her classmates and the constraints of her family life. The father we see in the opening video is no longer around, maybe in Spain but never actually encountered. Her mother for reasons of her own is not keen for her to gain her degree in music. Her grandmother, mysteriously known more often as Karen rather than Gran, is detached and distant. When her mother dies before Molly manages to get to university, her life slides quickly into chaos, under the burden of adult responsibilities she is incapable of handling, and without any support from family or state.
And so she ends up on the street, in denial about being homeless until she finally has to accept it when she sets up a date on Tinder simply in order to get a roof over her head. It looks as if she will seek relief by throwing herself out of a window, but suddenly she is whisked through a whirlwind of social services interventions until she ends up a halfway house of “purgatory” – where she may or may not end up meeting the criteria to be housed.
Co-written by Emma Bentley and Calum Finlay, and directed by Katharina Reinthaller, this is a powerful and emotional piece of work which rings true as an account of how someone, indeed anyone, can end up desperate and on the street. There are tantalising glimpses that could be developed further – I wanted to know more about the stories of the parents, the grandmother, even the social workers, schoolfriends and teachers.
But as you step out into a cold Upper Street night you can’t help but notice once again how many bodies are huddled in doorways and alleyways.
What Goes On In Front Of Closed Doors is at The King’s Head Theatre on 19th February. It will then be at the Playbox Theatre Warwick on 16th March, and the Burton Taylor Theatre, Oxford on 19th-20th April.