Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Not many shows start with the audience sitting on a minibus inching its way through a traffic jam.

But then the very point of Interiors, part of the impressive new Manchester International Festival, is that it’s not like other shows. Instead, it takes theatre out of the theatre and into a modest, suburban semi in a secret location.

We, the 20-strong audience, are potential housebuyers, being bussed to a viewing courtesy of estate agents Pennington Lee – named after the comedians behind this inventive project, Stewart Lee and Michael Pennington, or as you may better know him, Johnny Vegas.

Vegas plays Jeffrey Parkin, who’s selling this spacious brick-built two-bed des res so he can embark on a new life in Macedonia, where he’s bought a plot of land on which he’s planning his dream home. Doing places up is something of a passion of his, you see. He’s done – or at least started - plenty of design work on this Victorian semi, which he is more than proud to show off, from the illuminated pan rack in the kitchen to the bespoke rootwood coffee table that takes pride of place in an otherwise spartan lounge.

Given Vegas’s fearsome, full-on comic persona, it’s with some trepidation that you cross his threshold. Being in confined quarters with a drunken, supercharged, 18 stone of idiot is an intimidating prospect. Thankfully, he’s not like that at all. Playing against type, his character here is a respectable corporate troubleshooter, somewhat nervous about having all these guests round, but generally a genial host.

When it comes to matters of taste, he does everything an aspirational middle-class chap should. In furniture, it’s custom-made over Ikea mass production, rare wood over MDF. In food, likewise, he prefers exotic and organic, and in films, it’s acclaimed art-house fare such as his favourite Farinelli: Il Castrato.

So, why, when it comes to imparting bite-sized philosophies, does he resort to quoting Crocodile Dundee and Top Gun?

For all his admirable ambitions, is he trying to be something he’s not, living up to the unattainable ideals of glossy style magazines rather than being true to himself? He may be houseproud, but is he happy? These are the questions that Interiors skilfully raises.

Vegas – whose ex-wife, coincidentally, is an interior decorator - plays Parkin with warmth and wit, his experience on the stand-up circuit preparing him well for the uncertainties of working so intimately with an audience. In fact, audience seems almost the wrong word, so completely broken down are the boundaries between punter and performer. He offers us tea and biscuits, wine if we’d like, and people seem perfectly happy to engage him in small talk, just as if this was a real viewing.

It is all enjoyable good-natured banter, really, nothing much more substantial than that, until Parkin takes a phone call that shatters his fragile veneer of happiness, and the experience takes a turn for the dramatic. Even in his stand-up guise Vegas is the prince of pathos, and he uses that to great effect here.

For ticket-holders, it genuinely is a unique experience, being such an integral part of the action. And the fact that this is so obviously an art-for-art’s sake project, with no hope of making much money from such small ‘audiences’ and with no obvious way to be done on any bigger scale, only adds to the special sense of occasion. Viewing recommended.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Manchester, July 5, 2007

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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