Review: They Built It. No-One Came., Greenwich Theatre

“Neither of us were very charismatic.
&‘That was a problem'”

Inspired by a true story published in the New York Times, Fledgling Theatre Company’s They Built It. No-One Came. was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival last summer and has now resurfaced for a short run in Greenwich ahead of a UK tour starting in May. It’s the tale of two young men who, finding hostility to the love affair that blooms between them, opt out of society altogether to set up an “intentional community”, a commune by any other name, where they can create someplace new, someplace better.

It’s a tempting prospect, going back to nature and living in peace and harmony, but over a decade after setting up shop, Tobias and Alexander are still waiting for their first member to join them. So when eventually a troubled young man named Pablo does rock up, his integration into the lifestyle here is far from smooth sailing. And written by Callum Cameron, this awkwardness is given a brilliantly homespun, lo-fi treatment that is frequently hilarious.

Edoardo Elia’s troubadour-like Benny acts as a narrator, providing gentle and amusing musical accompaniment to the gay abandon with which these misfits live their lives – squabbling over how to pronounce their commune’s name, quoting Walt Whitman every chance they get, tending after their pet doves and occasionally dancing like loons. Christopher Neels and Patrick Holt nail this absurdity as the enigmatic pair, and Cameron brings a delightful bewilderment to the newly arrived Pablo.

The production then takes a delicious hard swerve into tragicomic territory, suddenly becoming much darker as the shadows they’ve all been escaping threaten to swallow them whole. It’s a nifty trick, and powerfully played by director Lucy Wray, as homophobia rears its ugly head just as much as personal demons. This does however also have the knock-on effect of exposing some of the devising work that has gone on here. 

In opening the door just a crack in deepening Tobias and Alexander’s emotional experience, we’re left wanting to know much more about them, about their relationship (they’re not played as a gay couple at all here). What was just humorous becomes psychologically complex, but equally vague as we realise how little of the story’s queerness is being investigated here. The story is so fascinating and the play so intriguing, you can’t help but want more. 

Running time: 60 minutes
Booking until 4th February, then touring May-June to The Warren, Brighton Fringe; The Old Firestation, Oxford; Sheffield Crucible; New Diorama, London; Ryan Centre, Stranraer; and Swallow Theatre, Dumfries

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