Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney
January 9, 2018

The stage of the Roslyn Packer Theatre is bare, dark and empty. A man in jeans and a white t-shirt lazily drags a portable floodlight onto the stage, trailing a long extension cord behind him. Soon Geoff Sobelle, the creator of HOME – which comes to the Sydney Festival following performances at the 2017 Fringe Festival in Philadelphia (where it premiered) and more recently the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the 2018 Brisbane Festival – is affixing a plastic sheet to a timber frame with a staple gun. It’s a gradual process that, like much of this show, is captivating – almost hypnotic – in the simple way that it unfolds.

HOME, SydneyHOME at Sydney Festival. Photo © Victor Frankowski

The timber frame becomes a screen which allows for some deft stage magic, with a dream-like series of vignettes drawing the audience into the intimate, domestic world of the show, first a bedroom and then a more elaborate two-storey structure that includes kitchen, living room, bedroom, study and bathroom. Sobelle was inspired to create HOME after discovering the stratified layers of flooring that had accumulated in the kitchen of his 100-year-old house in Philadelphia, laid down over the years by former residents. In HOME, Sobelle explores this idea on a clever, detailed set by Steven Dufala, with different generations of residents simultaneously occupying the house that is brought to life on stage as the audience watches on.

Sobelle is joined on stage by Sophie Bortolussi, Ching Valdes-Aran, Justin Rose, Ayesha Jordan, Luke Whitefield and folk singer Elvis Perkins (of whom Bortolussi, Valdes-Aran, Rose and Perkins are also co-creators of the work) and later in the piece by members of the audience, the work’s montage of daily moments reaching its crescendo in a house party that sees the lines between audience and performance blur.

While there is plenty of illusion and visual spectacle to entertain and bedazzle – which I won’t spoil by describing here – it is the quiet, intimate moments that stick in the mind, director Lee Sunday Evans capturing both the frantic energy and sprawling stillness of a living home. There are some beautiful details: the way an actor sits alone at a table, a moth fluttering by an outdoor light, or the way Brandon Wolcott’s sound and Christopher Kuhl’s lighting chart an exquisite transition from night to morning. From meditative moments, the piece swings into delightful dance-like sequences as multiple residents inhabit the same space on different timelines – moving at their own different tempi through morning ablutions and breakfast routines.

Home, Sydney FestivalHOME at Sydney Festival. Photo © Victor Frankowski

Wolcott’s score drifts dream-like through styles and genres, from tango driving the performer’s more energetic moments to a Bolero-like snare drum accompanying the house’s assembly, while Perkins’ wistful songs – performed on stage, walking amongst the residents – create focal points in the work’s structure.

HOME shifts gears when a (very sporting, on opening night) audience member is dragged onto the stage, becoming part of the story-telling as more and more people are invited to join the party in an ambitious and wonderfully effective – even touching, at times – use of audience participation.

With a running time of a little under two hours, with (almost) no dialogue, HOME is captivating. While there are a few moments when the pacing drags under the weight of the detail – there is a formidable volume of props, procedures and audience members to wrangle on stage – the slower moments are for the most part more meditative than tedious.

Writers have found in this work messages about gentrification and overcrowding, but ultimately it’s the intimate, personal details that are such a pleasure in this work, Sobelle channelling the tiny moments with which we are all familiar and which ultimately make a house a home.


HOME is at the Roslyn Packer Theatre as part of the Sydney Festival until January 18

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Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine