It's a situation that most London flat-dwellers have experienced at
some point - a neighbour does something annoying, like leaving their
rubbish outside their door or making noise in the early hours.
Then comes that awkward British moment of what to do about it. Knock on their
door? Leave a note? Do nothing? This is the impetus for Jason
Hall's play, Third Floor, based on his own experience of
staggering onto the property ladder.
The occupants of flats 11 and 12
on the titular third floor strike up a friendship over the binbags left
out by the unseen resident of flat 10, the films of Hitchcock and boozy
chats in the corridor.
Directed at cracking pace by Russell Labey, the story takes a sudden,
unexpected and unnerving turn to the dark halfway through, transforming
what seems at first to be a light comedy of manners and relationships
into a study of misplaced perceptions and the impact that acts of
selfishness and thoughtlessness can have on others.
This shift in tone
at first jars, but as the story progresses, it echoes the cataclysmic
change in the couple's friendship brought about by their actions. As
much as they are in the dark about their neighbour at flat 10, they come
to realise they also know so very little about each other and what they
are capable of.
Emily Head (The Inbetweeners) convinces as the woman at No 12, the proud
flatowner and young career woman, something of an innocent wanting to
"do the right thing" but persuaded not to in order to protect her
financial future. She is drawn into a friendship with the awkward,
socially inept and crass new occupant of No 11, played by Craig Gazey
(Coronation Street's Graeme Proctor).
Gazey is a talented performer,
giving a chilling portrayal in the second half of the play as his life
goes into freefall. Initially I was slightly disappointed that the character
is presented as Graeme Proctor-redux with a distinct whiff of
one of those soap spin-offs - "What Graeme did after he left the Corrie
cobbles." Later though, there's an indication of Gazey's true range
and that's something to be savoured.
The set, consisting of three doors and a stairwell, is simple and
effective, but after a while the flickering lights to indicate a scene
change become tiresome. Again though it's a play of two halves;
once the Hitchcock references fully kick in, the lighting underscores
the horror of the situation as Third Floorevolves from rom-com
to film noir.
Worth seeing, especially by London flat-dwellers for whom the neighbour
relationships will be only too recognisable.