first night

At The Cistern

Jacqui Duan sinks her teeth into some new writing with HBT's 'At the Cistern'


Joe Skeltons play, At The Cistern, is a credit to all student productions and certainly an inspiration for young aspiring playwrights. Exploring the universal struggles between the urban and natural landscapes, the play is cleverly understated and intimate. With only a cast of two couples and assisted with a (presumably) functioning toilet, the play is impressively anything but lowbrow.


Everything about the play is a little bit quirky, and a little offbeat. We find out from the very start that the upstairs toilet is broken, due to the forgetful inelegance of the easy-going yet optimistic Rob (Barnes), and the only functioning one is, quite inconveniently, situated in the kitchen. Whilst his enraged wife, the straight-talking Charly (Morgan), laments the demise of hygiene standards, her husband manages to sweet-talk her into seeing the lighter side of the situation. After all, she is his little mouton and he, hers. This wonderfully endearing relationship is scripted perfectly through quick-witted and humorous dialogue by Skelton and brought vividly to life by Barnes and Morgan, whose highly convincing onstage chemistry helped carry and sustain the production through a few moments of slight uncertainty.


Yet, where theres harmony, there is also discord, as this play endeavours to present. The arrival of their neighbours, the eccentric Graham (Clayton) and his wife, Suzanne (Harrison), provides excellent contrast. Sporting galoshes and tweed, the older couple are almost a caricature of all the expectations of country life and living. Claytons portrayal of the doddery academic with a penchant for building viking boats and dress ups is to be applauded, providing hilarious comedic intervention. However, it is the silent Suzanne we are immediately aware of, and Harrisons tight-lipped and abrupt performance provides a great balance to the dynamic and outspoken Charly, particularly in the first act.


The simple and unostentatious set also lent itself very well to the intimate nature of Skeltons play. A single, suspended lightbulb provided the majority of the lighting for the entire production, illuminating a scene of elegant clutter. Aside from a scattering of condiments and kitchenware across the back and the smear of paint across dust-sheets, indicating to the unfinished state of the house, there is little to distract the eye from the main fixtures in focus, a simple four-seater dining table, around which most of the action centres itself. It is a domestic scene, almost terrifyingly familiar, guiltily echoing the conversations we have behind closed doors.


It is a pity that there were some unfortunate technical hindrances in regards to lighting which led to a few delays before performance and during interval which may have contributed to the slight dip in the performance and rhythm of the second act. Whilst celebratory occasions are often the scene of disaster within drama, and Charlys 27th was no exception, the dramatic climax was lacking a little in clarity and exposition. Skeltons tight-lipped, abrupt and meddling Suzanne had much potential for development and whilst Harrisons performance had been impressive, it was a great pity that much of her [revealing] monologue was [lost into] the depths of the toilet bowl upon which she was draped in drunken stupor. Although perhaps, that might be rephrased instead as acting too well.


Hilarious, unique and refreshing, HBTs production of Joe Skeltons At The Cistern is the perfect showcase for a talented quartet of actors who have done this original play nothing but justice. 

18 October 2014

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