Appalling Behaviour

Appalling Behaviour
Written and performed by Stephen House. Directed by Justin McGuinness. La Mama, as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Sept 21 to Oct 2, 2011

In Appalling Behaviour, performer Stephen House conjures a whole world of dirty laneways, windowless rooms, frenetic nightclubs and lost souls with little more than his voice and body. He has a black curtain behind him, a few blocks for props and minimal lighting. It is all House needs.

House’s homeless man is so real and recognisable, with his tatty coat and t-shirt, you could swear you’ve walked past him on the street. What makes him especially heartbreaking is the mix of innocence and hopefulness along with resignation. House’s man longs for an ‘admirer’ – such a sweet word – but is looking for one in all the wrong places. He stands in the street, or a laneway, talking to the inhabitants of the Paris underworld, calling them by name as though they are his friends. When House reacts to these invisible ‘friends’, and describes the landmarks of his world – including a cheese shop, a church and a street corner – you can see and feel what he’s talking about.

The show’s confessional style is a perfect vehicle for House. He stands before us, exposing his desires, dreams and his behaviour, appalling or otherwise. We sense that he’s been on the street a good long while. He’s now 50, or perhaps 60, and quickly losing his ‘street value’. In one of the strongest sequences, he describes a night out with a man much younger than himself. Together they hit a seedy club, and take a walk along the river Seine at night. House skilfully brings to life the Paris underworld, with an “oily” black river, and darkness and despair underneath a bridge. This is not Paris in the springtime.

This is a highly charged study of a homeless man whose dreams of friendship, love and beauty are juxtaposed with his increasingly desperate behaviour. House, who also wrote the script, has unfailing energy and immerses himself into this character from the outset. This is intense theatre that will grab you by the collar and hold you for its entire 65 minutes.

Sara Bannister

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