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Third Floor

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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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 Floor evolves from rom-com to film noir.

Worth seeing, especially by London flat-dwellers for whom the neighbour relationships will be only too recognisable.

- Carole Gordon


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