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remotegoat 1 remotegoat 2 FringeReview Arts and Entertainment getreading audience comments

click on a title for a review

remotegoat 1 remotegoat 2 FringeReview Arts and Entertainment getreading audience comments

House Jack Built image - click for media page I was at the premiere performance of Multi Story Theatre's The House Jack Built at Studio@QT in The Queen's Theatre Barnstaple last night.

Multi Story's Gill & Bill play parents whose grown daughters' lives embody the theme of change.

They live in the house that Jack, Bill's father, built. A lengthy drought threatens the stability of the house and underpins the anxiety brought on by the disappearance of one daughter and the impending single parenthood of the other.

The narrative takes us through parental dilemmas, cotton wool vs cutting the apron strings, safe career vs citizen journalism, fighting change or changing to survive.

The House Jack Built is neatly composed with all the essential elements of good theatre. A simple set with minimal props and no more than a couple of hats and a scarf to enhance the multi character performances which Multi Story are so good at.

Bill's innovative technical input with video projection, music and sounds prompted scene changes and music by Tom Nordon delicately complimented the dynamic ambience of the piece.

The story was thought provoking but there were moments of comedy too. As Bill slipped between reality and a mirrored existence in his video games he made us laugh, galloping comically on his invisible steed armed against dragons with the sword of sanitation!

This may have been a premiere performance but there was nothing unfinished about this polished and highly entertaining show.

Gill & Bill are taking 'Jack' on the road to Ferment Festival of new work in Bristol next week and then on to Prague Fringe Festival in May.
Amanda McCormack, Arts and Entertainment

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Low Down

When an architect couple's house begins to crack, so do the strong foundations of their family.

A mother and a father (Rob and Kate) struggle to come to terms with the social idealism of a wayward, rebellious daughter who has gone 'off radar'. While their other daughter is about to have her first child and make Rob and Kate grandparents, they must consider the possibility of losing the home Rob's own father, Jack, built.


Somehow this show has itself slipped off the radar of the Festival buzz. How this has happened I don't know, but to say this is top Fringe fare would be an horrendous understatement. Bill Buffery and Gill Nathanson have painstakingly (according to their programme) put together a pitch perfect piece of theatre. In the programme they ask that the audience actually get in touch with them afterwards to tell them how the play 'worked' on them. This could make one think that they are about to watch a show which is going to come off as self consciously worthy, but this is far from the truth. I was readying my eager response to their humble request as soon as the curtain fell. The request to give feedback is in order that they may be more aware of exactly what they have achieved after all the caring time they have spent raising this very intelligent 'child' of theirs and how they may improve on their hard work.

It would be an exercise in futility to attempt to pick this play apart and say where it could be better, as they seem to have successfully absorbed all previous critiques and compliments to create exactly the play they wanted. In keeping with the theme of the play however I have an inkling that rather than seeking 'perfection' they are making plans for a more beautiful and permanent revolution.

The show develops in much the same way as the 'Play for Today' shows did on English television throughout the 70s and 80s (Bill was indeed involved in this series at one point). From a seemingly natural and homely scenario we are slowly hippy dipped into a swirling, sometimes surreal maelstrom of raw emotion and shrewd social comment.

Bill and Gill convincingly play various characters in The House Jack Built. Gill's transformation into her daughter is spectacular. When parents mimic their teenage children it is usually exaggerated and so far off base it's not even funny, but when Gill (and Bill) shift character to become their missing offspring it is with such superb insight and subtlety one has to wonder if they didn't in fact record these exact events while they were happening in their very own lives. It is hard to tell if they are acting as a conduit for their former, idealistic selves or for their own children. And as for their portrayal of an aging and loving married couple on the verge of breakdown, their consummate professionalism as actors (Bill cutting his teeth at The Royal Shakespeare Company and Gill an experienced drama teacher and television actress) pervades every word of every scene.

One almost feels like they are writing the story as they perform, directing each other with every movement and glance. I walked away thinking to myself, 'This is how the grown ups do it.'

I cannot recommend this highly enough. I am now going to write to Bill and Gill and tell them directly how their play ‘worked’ on me; it will of course be different for everyone, but believe me, it does work.
Michael Rowland, FringeReview

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Sharp, modern Multi Story Theater drama

When you think of intelligent, witty, and thought-provoking drama, home maintenance, architecture, and on-line gaming aren't the first things that spring to mind. Well, get prepared for a change of opinion with the sharp, modern Multi Story Theater drama 'The House Jack Built.'

Starring Bill Buffery as the harried but passionate architect Rob Jordan and Gill Nathanson as his brilliant and fiery wife, Kate, a not-so-simple issue of home repair and an unresponsive daughter become the catalyst for this engaging and shockingly relevant theater.

Rob and Kate are not only husband and wife, but partners in a seemingly successful architectural firm we assume is located outside London in one of the more well-heeled districts. The house in question is a sprawling, modern wonder built by Jack, Rob's father, a Swedish inspired marvel that we are allowed to imagine as filled with white furniture, modern art, and, perhaps, bookshelves from IKEA. However, all is not bliss in this design magazine dream as a recent drought has led to deep, 'fatal,' and all around disastrous cracks in the foundation and walls of the house. Adding to this domestic nightmare is the disappearance of Rebecca 'Becks' Jordan, a former architectural student turned 'Citizen Journalist' and budding YouTube activist. Throw in another daughter about to go into labor and separated from her partner, and the stainless-steel and hardwood perfection of Rob and Kate's life begins to give way.

Normally such a plot device would seem overblown and painfully obvious, but nuanced, finely-honed performances by Buffery and Nathanson add depth and texture to two baby-boomers whose worlds, which they so carefully constructed for themselves, begin to unravel. Rob loses himself in online fantasy games as real dragons and monsters rear their heads in the form of a crumbling home and financial free-fall. Kate, a Daughter of the Revolution in her own right, is horrified to discover the misogyny and bile that runs rampant through her daughter’s Facebook account.

Another layer to this multifaceted drama is the double-edged sword of social networking, something that while bringing them close to solvency, is separating them more and more from Becks, a Generation Y figure that I recognized all too well. Rob, Kate, and Becks may be hip to the latest Twitter, but no closer to reconciliation and reuniting.

The production is aided by the skillful use of multimedia projections that serve as a well-crafted mirror into the thoughts, fears, ideas, hopes, and dreams of the Jordan clan. Instead of the projections dominating the scene, they enhance the snappy dialogue and inner workings of their eternally occupied minds.

As someone with a baby-boomer parent and in the thick of Generation Y, I feel that 'The House Jack Built' will resonate with an audience that, for the most part, is caught up in the same tangled World Wide Web as Rob and Kate. With keen observations into the Occupy movement and the workings of Anonymous, Buffery and Nathanson refuse to shy away from the uglier aspects of global activism. Our two protagonists are a delight to watch and shift with ease into the skin of characters such as a curmudgeonly engineer and his own well-intentioned daughter.

If you have the chance to see this with your parents, I urge you to do so. Perhaps you'll find yourself looking for the cracks and flaws in your own life and, hopefully, finding the strength to overcome them.
Rachael Collins,

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Multi Story Theatre bring a thought-provoking play to the Reading Fringe Festival

An intriguing exploration of family, society and change, The House Jack Built is a thoroughly thought-provoking piece of theatre.

A two-hander, the play follows parents Rob (Bill Buffery) and Kate (Gill Nathanson) as they worry over their missing daughter Becky and their other daughter Nat, who is on the brink of becoming a single mother.

On one level a simple story of parental anxieties, family history and legacy, and on another a rich multi-layered experience looking at society, technology and the changing world.

Bill and Gill are wonderful as the two parents, Kate running off her anxieties with a jog and brimming with motherly concern, and Rob escaping into a world of Dungeons and Dragons.

Watching Rob lose himself in the computer world was both lightly funny and sad, a comment on ignoring our problems and the computer-obsessed society we live in. Another moment, when Rob listed all the different social networking sites in his search for Becky, also struck a chord on the issue.

Multi Story used a simple set to great effect, with wheelie chairs being spun across the stage, and doubling-up for the absent Becky.

Hats and scarves were used to create different characters, making the two-hander feel as if it had a much bigger cast.

Projections put together by Bill, and an original score by Tom Nordon, enhanced the performance, giving an extra visual to emphasise moments in the script. A newspaper clipping of the vendetta mask for example heightened talk of student protests, with very contemporary themes making for an engaging play.

The house may be crumbling around Rob and Kate but Multi Story has created a show with strong foundations indeed.
Caroline Cook, getreading

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audience comments

Really enjoyed the show! Clever writing and powerful story. Puddings yummy too!
sent from my iphone

Top stuff! Gill and Bill - and what a great evening, so good to see folk in their village hall enjoying watching good theatre! The puddings were pretty cool too! Thank you! :-))
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Just to say how magnificent the performance was last night at the Jubilee Hall. Such compelling acting, very clever use of technology, really sharp writing and a most pertinent theme. Bravo.
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"Extraordinarily good, classic, contemporary theatre"


This play is sturdily constructed and should stand long into the future as a blueprint for successful, 21st Century Fringe Theatre. In language that communicates entirely with present times, Multi-Story fulfils the same function as Drama did in Ancient Greece, when no newspapers, or TV docudramas and few books aired the issues that occupied society in those times. Theatre was the cultural focus for the intelligent communication of stimulating thought and debate that defines social identity and civility.

In this play, 'The House Jack Built' is a metaphor for the Home as created in the affluent, optimistic, liberated 1960s, but now crumbling. Social traditions are the clay on which our children's future home will stand. But in droughts, clay dries out, or softens in torrential rains – Shall we crumble or sink? Poetic simplicity in the white set, complete with two white office chairs on castors, satisfies our need for context; We are in an architects' office-cum-house inherited from Jack, the architect father of Rob. Rob is married to fellow-architect, Kate. Their work is to design and build for the future. We are in a civilization at a critical place and time in its history: Here and Now!

The play proposes that the totality of all we've inherited needs selective maintenance, preserving what is valuable and replacing what is defunct, to ensure our present day and our children's future will be habitable. Care and repair or replace? Well, anyway, that's my reading of 'The House Jack Built.' It offers as exhilarating an evening as any I've spent at a Multi-Story performance or at many others. Every moment in the play reveals a fresh delight of virtuosity from each little trick of stagecraft, expertly demonstrated by Gill Nathanson and Bill Buffery, founders and the entire complement of this innovative company. They are the creators of all their intensely full productions including this, seen at the start of their two-weeks residency at Exeter's lovable Bike Shed Theatre. (Sadly, lacking access for wheelchairs).

Multi-Story Theatre proves with every production how superbly adjusted is the partnership this couple comprise. Their all-encompassing plays for adults are witty, intelligent and relevant entertainment, stunningly performed by these two with symbiotic perfection. Teamwork in their consummate technique is as integrated as the multiple strands of their material: Domestic head- aches and family 'issues' that every audience can relate to, amusingly embroidered onto a complex backcloth of global reality.

Gill and Bill bring so much of the world into their plays, it is no wonder that Multi-Story are highly awarded internationally, as well as in the UK for quality of script, production and performance.

Based modestly in north Devon, the West Country is blessed indeed to have them perform here also.

In 'The House Jack Built,' computer games rival for attention with an expected new grand-child; the house walls are cracking but where is the other daughter, Becs, the globe-trotting revolutionary: A 'child of our time'? Other questions this play throws at us include, for example, 'Is a University Degree a usable passport to the future or an albatross hung around young necks? Have we done enough for History? Whither Capitalism? What else is there to do - Occupy? Do we need to understand our children? Should our children neglect us? Will it ever rain again?' ... Be careful what you wish for ....

That's a brief scan of my impressions from this superb production. Never a dull moment and by the close, my nagging anxieties about Life, bricks and mortar and 'The Younger Generation' were sorted.

Bill and Gill, with no less skill than great Thespians applauded in ancient and present-day Theatre, entertain us by gathering up the woolly threads of today's global complexities - in this production, travel, the internet, making a living and the foundations of the house, cracking - and knitting them into a sweater of our wider concerns. They do all this with breath-taking ease, or so they make it appear. In fact the dedication and hard-work they've put in, 'tho' invisible, is obvious. The actors' movement's flow around each other with loving familiarity. From the first moments we feel we are witnessing important Art, meticulously put together and beautifully performed. We meet several characters; Bill, as the husband Rob, also becomes a builder. Gill as Kate, often morphs into 'Becs,' the errant daughter fighting her causes around the globe. Natalie about to give birth, is absent but intrudes by mobile phone. Sketches of those absent faces appear on the cleverly utilized screen. Quality of each characterization is perfect. Bill even dons 'Bec's black scarf and woolly hat to yell anti-establishment defiance when he too, plays the demonstrator, furious in protest. Rapid-fire interchanges of argument, cross-talking and split-second personality re-jigs, set one gasping in admiration. Expect anything and free your mind when watching Multi-Story perform.

Among the avant-garde for dramatic exposition of our age, mirroring our humanity; its problems and its good fortune, Multi-Story are a towering beacon in our theatrical culture. Active in schools on educational projects and plays for children, everyone who watches Multi-Story, benefits mentally, spiritually and perhaps even physically, if you take up running, as does Gill's character in 'The House Jack Built.'

This Saturday, March 15th and next, the 22nd Multi-Story will perform matinee shows for families and next week, 18th to 22nd March, the evening show will be “I Don't Know What You're Talking About.” You can find out if you make sure you can get to Exeter, EX1 3AT. I certainly intend to.
Arthur Duncan, remotegoat

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"Dragon fighting or dippy connectivity?"


A fortunate few were in the right place at the right time last night – at the Bike Shed experiencing stunning live theatre. Multistory – a Devon based company - presented The House that Jack Built, a play a couple of years in development, and the latest incarnation is a cracker.

Live theatre can be a lottery. You walk into the auditorium abuzz with anticipation, precautionary drink in hand – ordeal or delight tonight? The lights go down, the actors move into role. You know within a minute. If you're lucky they grab your focus and you're away in another world. Last night everyone was a winner.

Multistory's performers – Bill Buffery and Gill Nathanson - have considerable theatrical pedigrees and it is fantastic to see professionals of this calibre at my local theatre. These actors could be padding out their pensions through screen appearances. Instead, they're performing live.

The House that Jack Built is a story about an ordinary family, a complex tapestry weaving threads of traditions, transitions and tensions. The warp is the temporal context. The play is rooted in and a reflection on a specific era – the latter part of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st. The spatial context is vaguer. The eponymous house is an essential character but its location is non-specific, the wider community more cyber than suburbia.

The show is stylishly staged. The set acts as a mega computer screen and multifunctional space with perceptible overtones of the altar and the operating table. The actors are efficient in white and manage changes of role, sound effects, graphic projections and props with practised switch flicks and minimal interruptions to flow.

These actors are turbo charged and rattle out the story with amazing energy and pace. The script is dazzlingly clever – if one could eat the words, it would be fine dining. Concentration is required. Switch off for a moment and you've missed out. The major roles are Rob (Buffery) and Kate (Nathanson) – a marital and professional partnership. Their lives, house, order books and bank balance are verging on empty and cracks and crumblings are creeping in. But they're not going down without a fight – whether it's dragons, dodgy builders, Scottish doctors or errant daughters.

The House that Jack Built oozes skill and sensitivity. The baby boomers will recognise themselves – as will their parents, children and (yes, it's that stage of life) grandchildren. It's a subtle and sharp piece of social commentary. This is brilliant writing but maybe a tad cerebral. There are both humour and poignancy but the balance between cognition and emotion is possibly slightly skewed. Perhaps performers of such skill could move their audience to bigger laughs and wetter tears?

Go judge for yourself – grab a seat at a great show.
Anna Marks, remotegoat

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