The Ramshackle House

Reviewed by Flossie Waite
An Upswing production
Playing at Stratford Circus Arts Centre until 24th December
For ages 3+

The narrative of The Ramshackle House will resonate with anyone affected by London’s housing crisis – it’s a tale of overcrowding, disputes between housemates, and going to extreme lengths to make a tiny home liveable. Whether it’s a bunch of fresh-faced millennials, or a growing family – as is the case in this show, in which a single man (Renato Dias) begins living with his partner (Delia Ceruti), and then their child (Matthew Smith) – co-habiting is a state of precariousness, requiring compromise, communication, and careful negotiations of space. Circus theatre company Upswing command the ideal medium to explore this constant balancing act, portraying it most literally – and perilously – as performers Ceruti and Dias sit either side of an elevated see-saw made from a wooden plank resting on a ladder rung.


Photo: Mark Robson

This virtually wordless production communicates more effectively than the company’s scripted show Bedtime Stories by allowing the movement to do all the talking. Smith’s acrobatics depict a child too excitable to sit still, turning the pages of his book whilst simultaneously performing a one-armed handstand on his chair; the woman’s romantic life is captured by Ceruti tying herself up in knots with a tangle of aerial ropes trying to reach her future partner; their family is the gymnastic feats the trio can only achieve together.

Forever struggling with floor space, the family’s lives play out on the roof – from doing the laundry to first dates – but Becky Minto’s set really comes into its own when they decide to build a room there. The race to get it done before Christmas means not only shelves and a bunk bed are installed, but the addition of fairy lights and a Christmas tree cleverly created from lampshades.

The Ramshackle House feels as emotionally truthful as the set-up is fantastical, with the couple’s exasperation, and subsequent divide, at life with a restless child particularly poignant. This is contemporary circus with a Roald Dahl twist, and it’s food for thought for an increasingly squeezed Generation Rent – if all else fails, perhaps a solution can be found if we just look up.

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