Performed in the rounds, with performers spinning as often as the estate agent spins her lies, The Good Landlord is an immersive, intimate piece of theatre. I experienced this more than most, by accidentally sitting right next to one of the performers. Identifying with the awkward, self-conscious co-lead Tom, I immediately knew I was going to be uncomfortable for portions of the play. However, instead of worsening my experience, having eyes on me whilst Tiwalade Ibirogba Olulode, as the PA Bryony acted, added to the immersion, the excitement and the overall sense of dread underlying each scene and Ed’s increasingly unhinged rants.
We open in every Londoner’s dream. Tom and Ed get led around a bright, spacious apartment a stone’s throw from Big Ben. Tom checks and checks again that the rent Is only 400 pounds each, whilst glamorous estate agent Clarissa confirms the price is legitimate and presses for the deal to be closed. Flamboyant and distressingly confident Ed is enamoured, but the neurotic Tom wants to know the catch, because as Tom believes, there is always a catch. Casually, as if it is no big deal, Clarissa informs them that there are cameras covering every inch of the house and that the landlord will be watching them at all times for “security purposes”. Tom’s dead set against renting, but Ed is forceful and manipulative, and they take it. Tom doesn’t want to be watched, whilst Ed couldn’t care less. These tensions propel the story toward its manic developments and conclusion.
Heavy, prescient themes of surveillance are presented, but not fully realised, perhaps owing to the hour running time. But both sides are expressed with Ed spewing the classic line of teach-nobs worldwide, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”. Tom of course disagrees, and the character you most identify with will be determined by your politics on surveillance. As the show develops, a love interest in the form of Clarissa’s PA, Bryony enters the fold, beginning her performance wedged between my bony hips and an arm rest, but making her way on stage to trade barbs with Clarissa and seduce Tom. This is the iffiest part of the play, with Bryony’s seduction not really fitting with the sexual politics and parameters of consent in 2019.
Michael Ross’ writing, however, is sharp and incisive, with performances loud, but fitting with the outrageous nature of the tale. Rupert Sadler is the loudest as the charismatic Ed, and nails the manic nature of the role, giving an incredibly fun performance that must leave him shattered every night. Phoebe Batteson-Brown is delicious as the scheming, vicious Clarissa, whilst Maximillian Davey as the introverted Ed brings a normality to proceedings, grounding it and letting Sadler strut his stuff. As Bryony, Tiwalade Ibirogba Olulode brings warmth to a character who contradicts her moral objections with immoral actions.
Cat Robey’s immersive, energetic and exhilarating direction ties the whole piece together, bringing a slice of 1984 to 2019, where constant surveillance seems like a natural evolution of our housing crisis
You can book tickets for The Good landlord via the link below. The play is at the Vaults Festival until Sunday.