Appalling Behaviour

House’s powerful performance, under McGuinness’s acute direction, generates a feeling of unease and discomfort, even fear.


Appalling Behaviour Stephen HousePresented by Professional Collective
Reviewed Wed 28th July 2010

Venue: Bakehouse Theatre, cnr. Angas and Cardwell Streets, Adelaide
Season: 8PM Thurs to Sat until 7th August
Duration: 70min
Tickets: adult $18/conc $12
Bookings: online at or by phone on 8227 0505 ($2 fee applies for phone bookings)

The latest work from prolific writer, Stephen House, finds him performing his own play, under the direction of Justin McGuinness. He presents us with fragments of a couple of days in the life of an English speaking man in Paris. Not only does he not speak French, but he declares his intention to refuse to learn it, adding to his isolation. House takes a devious path in his exploration of homelessness, the nameless man declaring that he thinks he might possibly be homeless because he now seems to be always carrying his bag, with all of his possessions inside.

At the opening of the play he sees some youths ‘rapping’ on a nearby corner and starts to dance. Moments later he is in danger of a beating, but is led away by a woman. She turns out to be named Caroline and, in true Quixotic fashion, he dubs her ‘the princess of Paris’, deciding that she must be his admirer, ignoring the obvious fact that she is a prostitute.

His mental illness is already clearly apparent. He is unsure what day it is, has mood swings, memory loss and delusions. At the beginning he has a home, of sorts, as he complains about the landlord. Not long before the play begins, he had money and, we assume, some control of himself, as he has come to Paris from Amsterdam, where he purchased 500 Euros worth of drugs that he planned to divide and sell for around 2,000 Euros. We also assume that his overindulgence in a goodly part of his supply has had a detrimental effect on his mind.

As the play progresses his decline continues as he falls in with a much younger male prostitute and his drug supply diminishes as he sells it, even though he seems to have no money, complaining that nobody has been paying him, in spite of their protests that he was paid. He is used, abused and cast aside, falls foul of the law and ends, much as he started dancing to the ‘rappers’, but now without a home, drugs, money, or anything else.

By focussing on the individual case, House intends that, by extrapolation, we may begin to understand the more general situation of homelessness. This may be an easy link for him to make, having spent time on the streets of Paris and having met people of all walks of life in other cities. It may also be an easy link for those who work with the homeless. It is a big transition, however, for those of us to whom this strata of society is vastly unfamiliar, and that link might be hard to make.

That aside, however, this is a play filled with poetic imagery and language, juxtaposed against the gritty subject matter. House’s rather seedy characters are richly written and all too believable in his superb performance, in which he plays the nameless man but, through him, also brings to life the others in the story. A simple set, four blocks that House moves around to depict differing locations, an effective lighting plot from Nic Mollison and music from Peter Nielsen and saxophonist, Giovanni Clemente, help to build the atmosphere of desolation.

This is a very strong, confronting and thought-provoking work that will lead to considerable discussion. House’s powerful performance, under McGuinness’s acute direction, generates a feeling of unease and discomfort, even fear, those feelings that lead most people to cross to the farther reaches of a footpath when passing people like this on the street, to avoid any possible perceived unpleasant interaction. This is a taut drama that will move you.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor Glam Adelaide.

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