Taking your seat to the latest offering from Sh!t Theatre, Letters from Windsor House, immediately prepares you for what is about to transpire. Main players, Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit, are already on stage, adorned with requisite trademark greasepaint, sat on a sofa, drink in hand, listening to 80s synth rock cheese classic ‘Alone’ by Heart. This informality is pretty much the spirit of what our senses will be subjected to for the rest of the show.
In some ways it is what you’d expect from an award winning offering that triumphed at the Edinburgh Fringe. The set is atypically spartan, save from a sofa and some cardboard boxes. The show itself is a compendium of DIY visuals, sketches, musical interludes, observational comedy with a heavy dose of social commentary. It’s raw. Unrefined. Rough around the edges. A diamond before it get all polished and transported to hopefully a major starring role in a Tiffany’s window display piece. In truth, it’s all a bit ‘on the fringe’.
Letters to Windsor House are Becca and Lou’s experiences of living together in London. The flatmates share their thoughts of residing at Windsor House, which is an inappropriately named block of flats given the parallels between its more famous Royal dwelling namesake. The duo divulge to the audience the mundanity of their cohabitation, from noisy neighbours to the local amenities, all the while pointing out the hilarity of the situation they find themselves in.
Then there are the so called letters and their decision to exploit a loophole in the law. They open the vast mail that is posted to their address and in doing so bring into sharp focus the political hot potato that is the housing crisis engulfing those in the big smoke.
It’s not surprising that such a subject matter should be held for satire and parody. Comedy has always been a visceral vehicle to showcasing the hopeless buffoonery of political and social issues. It allows those to comprehend the sheer stupidity of the situation and it allows those that attempt to highlight it, to give it some context and meaning.
In Becca and Lou you not only have a champion for such issues but a double act that clearly works. They are comfortable with each other on stage, able to riff off each other, finish off each other’s sentences, so much so that they are finely in tune.
And what’s more it is charming. Especially in the musical set pieces. Not all of this works all of the time, but when it does, it’s a genuine crowd pleaser. There are also tender moments of the production where they share some heartfelt scenes, this is more than just about the housing crisis, but what it means in terms of their friendship to live together as flatmates.
Interwoven between these two narratives is bringing the interesting array of characters that receive mail addressed to their residence in question. Along the way we meet dodgy landlords, an Irishman who owed HMRC a tenner and other such compelling people. We also are introduced to Rob Jecock. Someone who received an awful lot of material in the post about babies and so surreally was mocked musically as the ‘Adult Baby’.
Yet, for all the charm of this piece I cannot help but think of the frothy top that most commuters dream of standing in the queue of their nearest Starbucks. You know what I mean. The foamy pretty creamy froth that adorns the top of a capacunni or frappuccino or whatever ‘chino’ people obsess over these days. Some even have some cocoa powdered infused pretty design on top. But once you’re past that froth, you’re hoping that the coffee is gonna provide the real hit. That is what epitomises Letter to Windsor House – all froth and no caffeine!
For it is not one thing or the other. A social commentary on the housing crisis? Sharing your own self served experiences alongside images of the space outside your flats where the homeless used to use is not exactly an in depth analysis of the housing crisis if I’m brutally honest.
The same I have to say goes for the well worked moments of their friendship. This love letter of a show to each other is completely understated, in fact too understated. Given how brash both Becca and Lou can be, it is surprisingly downplayed. When they let their guards down it brings a poignancy to the issues in question, yet they do so by trying to hide their emotions behind silly props. They would be better served playing it for real than for a cheap laugh.
As for the voyeuristic imagining of what the former residents of Windsor House could be, they seem to be just that, voyeuristic imaginings – to the extent that they humorously stalk Rob Jecock in order to find out if he really does have an adult baby fetish.
If anything sums up this production then it is the startling conclusion. Yes, spoiler alert I’m afraid, for I’m going to give away the ending. In highlighting the housing crisis as a by product of their experiences of living at Windsor House they reluctantly decide that it’s better to be part of the vicious circle than to be made homeless. The touching moments of them living together, which also forms a crux to their show, is neatly concluded in a nice visual at the end informing us that they went their separate ways. As for Rob Jecock, they ultimately didn’t even get to meet him!
Verdict: Raw and at times brutally honest appraisal of what it is to live in London. It’s charming, but lacks the oomph of analysing the issues involved.