On its dinky little 15 x 10cms programme, the good folk responsible for How to Use a Washing Machine had kindly included a link to advice on operating a washing machine (suspecting a spoof, I declined to try it) but somehow this zany detail typified the show. Two siblings, Cass (Amelia Gabriel) and James (Max Cadman), return to their parents' – and, until just now – their own home, to gather up outstanding belongings before fleeing the nest for good. Cheerful expectancy reigns, a few joshing exchanges are played out, and the strong opening song, 'Why Today?' kicks off, accompanied by the unusual choice by composer/musical director Joe Davies of a string quartet (two fiddles, a viola and cello). The songs were all effective, and were enhanced by substantial recitative sections; possibly one or two of these were a touch overlong and slightly inflated by repetition. Cass addressed her solo song 'Help Me Use a Washing Machine' to the beast itself, turning it into a paean of desperation, almost an appeal to it as a resolver of domestic chaos. She became increasingly manic as her heap of underwear declined to co-operate with the indignity of being stuffed wholesale into the drum.
Cass and James became increasingly confident about their independent living prospects, and the latter found time to strut and pose for a spot of zany James Bond rôle-playing in dark glasses, while Cass tried womanfully to keep his feet on the ground: 'We'll be slitting our throats over the lasagne.' Then, just as we were coasting along the open road in a sports car, a song on our lips and a smile on our faces, there came a grinding of gears and the car lurched into the ditch. Cass suddenly discovers from James the fact of their parents' impending divorce, with the house they were standing in about to be sold from under their feet. Cue recriminations and panic, then James launches into an extended – perhaps over-extended - monologue as he examines his past, present and future: 'How did I become a calculated cliché?' he laments in song, followed by Cass' raking over the embers of her parents' marriage and her place therein. The moral of all this seemed to be that moving out is not so much about handling practical tasks as establishing a solid emotional foothold that combines assimilation of past events with hopes and fears for the future.
I don't know how long the gestation period of the show by writer Georgie Botham and composer Joe Davies was, but I was told the rehearsal period was a barely-credible fortnight following Finals. The show had certain weaknesses, sure: the narrative was a little lacking in onward thrust since, as in a relay race, the narrative baton tended to be passed sideways from Cass to James rather than placed a step or two in front of them so they could run onto it without breaking stride. I also thought the script dealt a little more than was comfortable in rhetoric than in repartee.
said, the strengths column was far the longer: Georgie generated real angst in
the shifting sibling relationship, marking its signposts clearly despite the
shortish running time, and its acting out was impeccably handled by Max and
Amelia. The latter, in black trousers adorned with roses and morning glory plus
incongruous brown brogues, handled perfectly the wrench from playfulness into
wide-eyed shock when the big revelation hit her. The former slid persuasively
into self-examination, offering himself as a prop to his sister. They both sang
Joe Davies, a very promising orchestral conductor, composed a score of surging emotion, a mix of melody and sub-atonal music. His string quartet comprised the collectively excellent Imogen Lawlor and Maya Saxena (violins), Daniel Fletcher (viola) and Sam Whitby (cello). Designer Christina Hill and director Jonny Danciger made great use of utilitarian props (boxes and domestic equipment) to the extent that these came to assume a significance beyond their physical presence, and also exemplified the ability of this show to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear of resources, which after all is an essential aspiration of OUDS drama.