Blavatsky's Tower

Moira Buffini

Simon James Collier & Fallen Angel Theatre in association with Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

(2010)

Review by Sandra Giorgetti

Domineering architect Hector Blavatsky housed himself and his family in the top floor flat of the tower block he designed. But the utopia he had imagined failed to be realised and, overwhelmed by the ugliness of his own creation, he turned his back on the world and never set foot outside the flat again.

In the absence of a mother, the three children were raised by a monstrous father who stayed within the confines of the 25th floor. Now, even from his deathbed, he continues to tyrannise them and they, for fear of contamination from those who live below, revealingly called 'the crushed', have adopted a similar seclusion.

Only the eldest Audrey, who has a job, has contact with the outside world which gives her power over her brother Roland, who remains aloof from society in "a battle to remain uncorrupted" and sister, Ingrid, who is kept in by her "will".

The status quo of their unconventional living arrangements teeters precariously with the arrival of a stranger, and the pretence that they are an "ordinary family" becomes increasingly transparent as it emerges that they are not always sure exactly what is 'ordinary' themselves.

The writing is packed with well-observed contradictions of family living: the compromise between duty and personal want, the changes of allegiance, the reigning in of hate and the calculated giving of affection. Here the perversities are more extreme but no less believable as Buffini reveals the savage side of this love-to-hate, hate-to-love institution.

Director Chris Loveless has assembled a first class cast for this revival of Moira Buffini's 1998 play. Emily Bowker has a strong stage presence and gives a powerful performance as Audrey, frustrated by the dilemma of being in charge of the family without being the one in control.

Robert Wilson is Tim Dunn, the person who represents 'normality', complete with questionable motives, in the form of the doctor who goes to the 25th floor flat by a quirk of fate and becomes embroiled with this most dysfunctional of families. Wilson is adept at the comic elements of the role and gives the confused and disbelieving doctor a pleasingly humorous physicality too.

Annabel Bates engenders sympathy for the vulnerable Ingrid in a sensitive portrayal of a disturbed and fragilely innocent victim whilst still hinting at an ability to manipulate things to her own advantage. Oliver Hulme by contrast is a raging tortured Hector Blavatsky but nonetheless moving when he says to his son, "I wanted it to be true, but nothing ever is".

Roland is played by Anthony Hoskyns, in a thoughtful performance that reveals the complexities and inconsistencies of a troubled mind.

Blavatsky's Tower is a compelling piece of writing that is both darkly comic and thought provoking. It covers a lot of issues, may be too many, but Chris Loveless' direction maintains a tight pace and delivers a gripping evening's entertainment.

"Blavatsky's Tower" plays Tuesday to Saturday evenings until 3 April 2010