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“Heartwarming, enjoyable, and refreshingly different”: A Review of Sisyphus House

‘Sisyphus House’ is an original rom-com by students Abbie Nott and Megan Bruton. The show intersperses scenes following two different relationships (which take place in the same house); one set in the Tudor times between two noblemen, and the other in 2023 between a university student and a young council employee. In both eras, the would-be romantic interest attempts to make a claim on the house (for ownership in the Tudor era, and to seize it for the council in the modern day), which is emphatically opposed by the respective protagonists. Predictably trope-y? Yes. But this is fair enough given the writers made it clear the story should emulate YA fiction: and it certainly did so. 

The charm of the production was in the idea that the titular house had been witness to all sorts of burgeoning relationships throughout its tenure, and this was sweetly conveyed through Nott and Bruton’s writing. Particularly impressive was the dialogue between Arthur (Joshua Gray) and Francis (Alex Bridges), which felt very period-appropriate. Rowena Sears’ costumes for the two tudor leads were delightful, yet the all-black (and very modern) costumes of the ensemble were slightly jarring at times. Eliana Kwok’s set design was minimal but effective, with the entire story set around a table in a particular room of the house. At times I was left wondering if the tube of pringles were intentionally left on stage during a scene between two tudor nobles, but I suppose this added to the ‘time-bending’ nature of the production. 

Special mention must go to Carys Howell, whose performance as Kit injected a livening burst of energy into the show. Howell’s performance was believable and comedically well-timed, providing harmony to Kate Harkness’ Robin. Another particularly enjoyable performance came from Phoebe Winter, whose occasional asides as Francis’ absentee (and adulteress) wife were funny and well-choreographed. This was another instance of good staging from directors Jake Dann and Matilda Kennedy. 

The overall aesthetic of the show was pleasing to the eye, no doubt thanks to the lighting design from Rei Ota, which helped mark a shift between the Tudor era and the modern day (though it would probably be hard to miss given the costumes worn by Gray and Bridges).  Equally enjoyable was the sound design from Teia Currimbhoy- while the scene depicting a party in Sisyphus House was mildly awkward, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was underscored by a song by The Strokes. 

The ‘rom’ element of the rom-com was, at times, left to be desired. The script relied on inference rather than physical or verbal confirmation that either of the couples were actually together, and while an audience should not have to be spoon fed plot-lines, I think more could have been made of the relationships between the respective couples. Robin and Ben, for instance, in 2023, spoke about being ‘friends’ at the very end of the play, which was puzzling. Equally, the chemistry between Gray and Bridges as potential secret lovers was mostly lacking. 

Despite this, though, the show was heartwarming and enjoyable, and the cast and crew should feel proud. It was a refreshingly different production, in terms of both writing and staging, and a very pleasant experience. 

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