The effects of social isolation have never been more relevant in today’s oh-so-social digital world. With social media companies swallowing more and more of our personal data, it’s certainly the right time to revisit a play that asks why a father might lock up his family in a top-floor flat, away from that world and the ‘crushed’ that live in it. Such a play is this 1998 work from the English playwright Moira Buffini: a tragicomic tale, ‘Blavatsky’s Tower’. Revived by the exuberant folks at 3 Crate Productions, the resonating themes and jet-black humour of ‘Blavatsky’s Tower’ are unmistakably relevant.
On the twenty-fifth floor of an ugly tower block, the ‘architect and visionary’ Hector Blavatsky, now blind and close to dying, lives with his three children – Roland, an embittered, resentful young boy engaged in writing his ‘Theory of the Universe’ whilst rotting his brain with hours of television; Ingrid, a sensitive girl who obediently takes note of each of Blavatsky’s bizarre visions; and Audrey, the only family member who has ever ventured outside the house (and has clearly become ‘crushed’ by it too). When Audrey brings home an aloof Dr. Tim Dunn to help her dwindling father, the true damage done to these children by such isolation becomes clear. The play reaches dark conclusions about family ties and how the society in which we live affects our treatment of others.
As dark and odd a tale it may sound, it is also very funny. Moira Buffini’s playful style means that the darkest moments are handled with rib-tickling absurdity, occasionally too much. In this play, it seems Buffini’s crowd-pleasing sense of humour cannot reach its full potential due to the rather bleak subject matter in ‘Blavatsky’s Tower’. Her style is much more suited to the sell-out, West End farces like Handbagged and Dinner for which she is now known, performed to packed-out theatres and five-star reviews. So, regardless of all the loose-ends that are left dangling here, this play is undoubtedly entertaining.
Under Peter Scott’s direction, those moments of bleak farce are elevated, making for a painfully funny evening. And this is thanks in no small part to the consistently good troupe of actors on show. Emma McNab and Hannah Lloyd have a humorous rivalry as the sisters, Ingrid and Audrey, which soon swells into a near-homicidal contempt for the other. Ben Tinniswood has a suitably aloof air as Dr. Tim Dunn, delivering his funniest lines with a dazzling command of timing. A lot of the raucous laughter though is down to Tom Hurley as Roland, comically frantic and poisonous in manner. Finally, Anthony Leader adds some theatrical class to the evening as Blavatsky, portraying him as a Prospero-like figure, highlighting both the menacing and the moving aspects of an old man aware that this is not his world anymore.
A lot of fun is had in this production – a lot of water spilt, a lot of bellies tickled, even a yoghurt pot flew into the audience at one point. But beneath the laughter, there sits a truly dark message about human nature in an enclosed space. Take a trip up to Blavatsky’s Tower if this sounds like your sort of thing. Oh, and by the way, take the stairs.
‘Blavatsky’s Tower’ is at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff until 11th April.