Review: A Bed of Roses (Arbour Theatre Company)

Scripted by Disapol Savetsila from the true stories and experiences of young people around the world during COVID-19, A Bed of Roses is an immersive theatre experience that explores the familiar frustrations of a share house with the added stress of a global pandemic.

After the devastating year that was 2020, the housemates of 22 Rose Street are finally having a house party. Suddenly, there is a text alert – there’s a new, mutant strain of coronavirus, and everyone must shelter in place immediately! But the party is already happening – why not all quarantine together, and let the party play on?

Like any group of young adults, the Rose Street housemates are trying to navigate identity, anxiety, relationships, and COVID safety, among other things. The work was full of classic housemate disputes and disagreements – Whose turn is it to clean the bathroom? Why is the rent late again? – as well as moments of surprising emotional sincerity that added depth. A Bed of Roses shone a spotlight on a situation that many people faced during last year’s lockdowns – what do you do when you’re trapped in a space with people you can’t get away from? Especially when there’s only one bathroom?

Directed and produced by Ruby Conolan Barrett, A Bed of Roses included several concurrent storylines and audience members could move around the Queenslander house and follow the story or characters they were most interested in. In that sense, the work would also benefit from multiple viewings – I followed mainly Kev (played by Ben Snaith) and Marty (played by Oliver English) through the basement and backyard, while others followed Circle (Asia Beck), Emily (Maisie Crosdale), and Jonathan (Francis Rosbook) around inside the house. The actors gently directed the audience to another room or space when needed, and always in character, but mostly the staging made transitions between scenes easy and evident.

Arbour Theatre Company really perfected the vibe of the house party, and the immersive experience began from the moment I arrived as the housemates greeted everyone, mingling and introducing themselves. I was taken right back to my early twenties – wander in, clutch your drink, look for someone you know, nod and smile at strangers. Each housemate was easily distinguished by a crochet rose pinned to their shirt, which was a good thing, since the performers blended in to the setting so naturally as they moved through the audience.

Lighting by Steven May was well-adapted to the space, and music performed by Ben Snaith and Asia Beck (as Kev and Circle) added further texture to the performance. Although parts of the show had to be moved under the house due to an unexpected storm, there was plenty of space for both action and audience. The rain had also cleared up by the time of the performance, and the garden space was still able to be used in parts.

The cast of five delivered a consistent, committed performance and responded to audience interaction in character throughout the evening. There was a moment when someone used a cast member name instead of a character name, but otherwise the conversations flowed smoothly, and monologues were delivered in a way that didn’t feel forced or scripted.

The performance started and finished in the same spot, drawing all the cast and audience members together. I would have liked the convention of the lockdown house party to come full circle and have the “lockdown” lift at the end of the show, but this lack of closure didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this immersive work.

We’ve all lived with them – the mess-makers, the drama queens, the terrible cooks, the freeloaders, the passive-aggressive post-it note leavers…the list goes on. If you’ve lived in a share house, you will see at least one of your housemates (or maybe yourself) in A Bed of Roses.

Arbour Theatre Company will present A Bed of Roses at House Conspiracy, West End, from May 12-16. Ticketing and further information is available on the event page.

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