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Terms and Conditions

Patrick Marmion's new play, which sees a mysterious old man enter the lives of a young family, premieres at the White Bear in Kennington

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Charlotte Brimble (Jasper) and Mike Burnside (Liv)

Having currently got some blocked pipes in the bathroom at home, I sympathise with the protagonists of Patrick Marmion's new play Terms and Conditions. Where our paths diverge is that I haven't, as far as I know, got a mysterious violinist hiding in my cellar.

When young parents Kat and Walter attempt to unblock their toilet, the gurgling in the pipes transpires to be much more than they bargained for. An old man appears to have crawled from the sewers into their home, sporting an "all body beard", a heavy eastern European accent and a violin (a fiddler under the floorboards, if you will).

Who is he? Or, more crucially, what does he represent? Well, after an hour and 40 minutes I can't say I was sure on either count.

Marmion, whose name you likely know as a critic, is experimenting with form in attempting to hang some deeply non-naturalistic concerns on a fairly bog-standard (pardon the pun) domestic comedy-drama. But with neither clarity of theme nor depth of narrative, it soon becomes a confusing and altogether rather laborious affair.

While Walter (Jermaine Dominique) starts going for 'life coaching' sessions with flirtatious friend Liz (Victoria Walsh), at home his eight year-old son Jasper (confusingly played by grown-up actress Charlotte Brimble) befriends the mysterious man, a la Whistle Down the Wind, as they discuss creationism and visit church.

Marmion is hinting that the clash of ancient ideas and modern lifestyles is a combustible one, and gets somewhat Orwellian when Liz's husband Les (James Thorne) - a builder-turned-security guard - threatens to report the old man for being outside of "designated reality".

But there is far too little coherence; the play is trying to squeeze a camel of an idea through the eye of a narrative needle. And framing it all as a kind of dream does little to help matters.

Director Simon Usher could have trimmed the text more judiciously, but conjures some robust performances from the cast, notably Mike Burnside as the sewer-dwelling shaman and Jennie Gruner as a nerve-shredded Kat.

But when all is said and done you're more likely to leave scratching your head than your chin. When Walter proclaims in defence of his elderly house guest, "this guy knows what's going on," it prompted me to think, 'well I'm glad someone does'.

Terms and Conditions continues at the White Bear until 1 December