I guess nobody else who reads this blog was living in the Westcountry in the late 1990s, or you'd also remember Russell Labey as the BBC local newsreader, most memorable for getting steadily, visibly more drunk over the course of Children In Need night. Nowadays he's better-known as a theatre director who must be getting to know Trafalgar 2, where he previously directed New Boy and Wolfboy: The Musical, pretty well. He's there again for Third Floor, inspired by Canadian-born playwright Jason Hall's experience of one of those part-buy part-rent housing schemes. It satirizes the obsession in recent years with treating homes as moneymaking machines, bumping up the prices and making these kind of schemes the only way to get onto the property ladder, through a comic thriller about nightmare neighbours. Designer Jason Denvir has cleverly squeezed an impression of a third-floor corridor onto the small stage, where the new occupant of Flat 11 (Craig Gazey) bumps into 12 (Emily Head) as he moves in, and they awkwardly attempt to strike up a "neighbourly" relationship, based around gentle flirtation, one-upmanship over who has the bigger flat as opposed to who owns a bigger stake in theirs, and grumbles about the occupant of 10 who keeps leaving stinking rubbish bags outside her door. The latter turns into a major plot point as they try increasingly less subtle ways for her to get the message, and things unexpectedly take a nasty turn.
The abruptness of this change from sitcom to thriller was my main sticking point about the play, which really does feel like two separate shows stuck together. Gazey does admirably manage the sudden jump from lovable lad (complete with comedy nude scene) to creep - if anything he's better at the drama than the comedy, which he delivers a bit too self-consciously to the audience¹. He also might want to find out what he's done to offend whoever photoshopped the poster image - turns out in real life he doesn't have a completely spherical face. Head is fine as the frightened 12, but could do with developing a bit more vocal range in her performance. The aforementioned satire on home ownership feels a bit tacked on but the show as a whole is entertaining enough, and would be a lot more satisfying if the different threads had been a bit more subtly weaved together.
Oh, and: I didn't notice a "flashing lights" notice but epileptics might want to be wary of the strobe-like effect of the flashing on-and-off hallway lights that mark scene changes.
Third Floor by Jason Hall is booking until the 5th of November at Trafalgar Studio 2.
¹I take it from his programme bio that he was the comic relief in Coronation Street, so presumably this is what a lot of the audience were there expecting to see