SBW Stables Theatre, Sydney
May 10, 2018

Good Cook. Friendly. Clean. by Brooke Robinson opens with two young people – A (Kelly Paterniti) and B (Fayssal Bazzi) – trying to work out the best way to tell their housemate that they need her to leave. While they are still arguing the toss, she arrives home with food for dinner.

Fayssal Bazzi, Kelly Paterniti and Tara Morice. Photograph © Brett Boardman

Sandra (Tara Morice) is in her 50s and clearly has some medical condition. Initially she is totally shocked and tries to ignore what they are saying but the message is clear. She may have lived there for four years but she has two weeks to get out as a friend of theirs is arriving in Sydney and needs to move in.

For the next eight scenes we watch an increasingly desperate Sandra visit various places trying to find somewhere to rent. But in each case, apart from one kindly soul, you can tell that they pretty much take one look at her and decide she’s too old, too serious, or too whatever, and not what they’re looking for. With a small costume change, Paterniti and Bazzi play all the other characters, most of them pretty vile. Sandra tries to be what she thinks they want but they are brutally disinterested, and her frustration, fear and desperation grows until the final awful scene.

The idea for the play came to Robinson, an Australian playwright, when she moved to London in 2015 and found herself trying to rent a room in shared accomodation, pitching up with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of applicants. With property prices, and therefore rents, rising rapidly in cities like Sydney more and more people are struggling to find places to live – and for older, single people it is even harder, particularly for older women according to statistics.

It’s a powerful idea for a play, but the fact that the other characters that Sandra meets here are so ghastly undercuts the drama. Directed by Marion Potts, it becomes more about these awful other people and the laughs they generate than about Sandra. The ending should be devastating but it doesn’t connect anywhere near as strongly as it might.

Designer Melanie Liertz has created the suggestion of a house with half-painted walls, a few props and highly visible plumbing pipes, which works cleverly to be either totally shabby or shabby chic depending on where Sandra is visiting. Liertz’s costuming for A and B is also well done so that with tiny little changes Paterniti and Bazzi can morph quickly between the characters, which they do extremely well. Morice meanwhile brings a warmth, humanity and increasing desperation to the proceedings.

Robinson can certainly write, and she brings a darkly cruel, comic touch to the people Sandra encounters, but the play feels somewhat overdone. Perhaps if it were taken even further, the characters would feel like the nightmarish world Sandra has found herself in, but here they are played as if for real and end up being so dreadful they detract from the drama, leaving us intellectually rather than emotionally engaged with Sandra’s hellish situation.

Good Cook. Friendly. Clean. plays until June 16


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