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Third Floor

Jason Hall
Trafalgar Studios 2
(2011)

Third Floor publicity photo

What could be better than buying a flat and getting your foot onto the property ladder for the first time? Quite a lot, as it turns out.

Inconsiderate neighbours, innocent pranks, a missing dog and inter-flat soirées are just a few of the experiences shared, and sometimes initiated by the nameless duo that inhabit the stage in Jason Hall’s new play Third Floor.

Set entirely on the third floor hallway of a new apartment block made up of first time buyer-friendly part-buy-part-rent flats live 11 (Craig Gazey) and 12 (Emily Head). Not naming the only two characters in the piece is brave but gives it an immediate universality that is very appropriate for a play not just about two people but rather a whole generation.

11 is a twenty something man who appears to have no job. He doesn’t leave his flat in the day, whilst he explains that he was able to afford his 55% stake in the apartment because of inheritance. Gazey imbues 11 with just the right amount of ladishness for his tales of rugby initiations to ring true without coming across as a lout, whilst the look in his eyes always hints at a darkness bubbling beneath.

Emily Head’s performance as 12 is excellent. She plays a young professional struggling to balance all that is taking place in her life - she goes jogging, she parties, she works, she has, it would appear, no time for herself and no time to have fun or relax. Head’s 12 seems to constantly be trying to do what she thinks society expects of her, to always do what is right for a young adult, whilst showing glimpses of a real fragility, a young woman desperate for human contact in her sterile and formulaic life.

Third Floor’s narrative is delivered in a series of short scenes only ever taking place in the shared hall outside the flats whilst other meetings are alluded to but never exist for the audience. From the first moments of 11 struggling to push a mattress up the stairs and into his flat the characters are a perfect representation of today’s confused youth. They recite learned lessons from university - “I don’t shit on my own doorstep” - as though they are the morals by which you should live your life. They go about their days in a way that shows, despite repeating time and again the desire to “do the right thing”, that in fact nobody “knows what to do these days”.

Communication between the two is charged with sexual tension and nerves, whilst communication with a messy neighbour who has a tendency to leave rubbish outside her door is limited to post-it notes and short written messages.

When the play concerns itself with this simplistic but very detailed exploration into the life of two single first-time home owners, it is compulsive watching reminiscent of David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago, a tale of four equally clueless twenty year olds in 80’s America.

However, towards the second half of the lean 80 minute single act play the narrative begins to concern itself with something much more sinister and, in context, much more far-fetched. Russell Labey’s direction, which up until this point has been precise and excellently observed, begins to struggle with a text that’s tone begins to shift far too fast to remain realistic. This is not to say that the final movement is entirely unbelievable but rather that it seems a little underexplored in this play. The writing, having appeared to be about one thing, becomes about something else entirely. It could work but it feels as though it might benefit from a little more fleshing out with the new direction of the latter narrative being allowed time to breathe.

Jason Denvir’s set design provides not only a brilliant platform for the drama but a space (aided by the intimate Trafalgar Studios 2) that genuinely feels as though it could be the cramped hallway of a new apartment block.

Third Floor is not perfect, but when it captures with such intricate detail the problems faced by young adults in an increasingly complicated world it is very good. With a little bit of work though, it could be so much more.

"Third Floor" plays at Trafalgar Studios until 5th November

Reviewer: Alisdair Hinton