Review by Grace Swadling
A fly, a worm, an ant and a moth gather in a suburban sharehouse and get high together.
Sounds like the start of a bad punchline but emerging playwright Annabel Gilbert and director Liv Gainsford have combined bugs and drugs to present an engaging new piece exploring “the intoxicating chaos of youth, begging the question do we actually need to grow up to move on?”
As the audience entered Bughouse, the actors were already on stage which immediately immersed us into the world of this scungy but loveable group of sharehousers. Production designer Hollie Pianta’s incredible set was a fully realized university sharehouse, down to the mismatched furniture and weed on the coffee table. An awesome touch was the rope used to look like spiderwebs and all the greenery and foliage covering the stage, as well the almost alarming amount of disco balls. Having the space set up as a ‘theatre in the round’ meant that wherever you sat you had a clear view of the actors, even when they were in different “rooms” - massive kudos to the team who were able to source a fridge and a bath to make the space come to life even more.
From the very opening of the show, there were clear characters/stereotypes that were then further developed as the show progressed. The main core cast had great chemistry and really worked to showcase the different personalities within the sharehouse.
Mia Chisholm was a strong presence as ‘Fly’, the vulnerable yet determined baby of the household who finds herself treading down a dangerous path. Chisholm trod this path beautifully, playing Fly’s desire to be independent in a way that made it easy for an audience to understand how she could become so isolated and alone in a house full of friends.
Her chemistry with Jamie Delmonte as her brother ‘Worm’ was also fantastic, although I felt the decision to cross-cast Delmonte as the predatory Davey didn’t land as well. Although Delmonte was given the opportunity to showcase his range, it seemed a bit at odds with our investment in their sibling relationship and the romance between Worm and Samuel French’s ‘Moth’.
Both Delmonte and French shone in these roles and the development of Moth and Worm’s relationship was both believable and lovely to watch. French played Moth so sweetly but the real highlight of his performance was his dead-eye moth stare into the lamps around the sharehouse.
Rounding out the house was Jordan Lee as ‘Ant’ whose initial stoner persona gave way to a lovely depth towards the end of the production - not to spoil anything but if you can make your audience cry at a giant foil ball, then you know you have a great production on your hands.
Daniel Johnston and Belle Steinhardt as Robin and Riley Raid were the over-the-top comedic relief in the form of overbearing and greedy landlords. Their appearances were absurd but also super relatable and their exuberance and cheesiness was brief but absolutely worth it.
Indeed the whole show had varying moments of groundedness - the hysterics were hysterically funny but more care given to the dialogue would have elevated this production. Sometimes dialogue and depth was lost as enthusiasm over clarity took over. Similarly the bug analogies or metaphors were a bit heavy handed at times but very powerful at others ie: the spider webs coming out when Fly was at her most vulnerable and the scene with the bug spray spring to mind.
All the design elements in this show worked so well. Caleb Bartlett’s lighting design was a real stand out and worked in perfect conjunction with Douglas Carr’s impeccable sound design; music that conjured memories of uni parties combined with pulsating beats and fun sound effects (squeaking bed springs in a sharehouse has never been represented so truthfully)! Hayley Woodward’s costuming was also a big tick and the fun transitions into bug states was a highlight of this production.
Both the cast and the creatives have worked hard to bring this production to life. Unfortunately it only has a short run but overall Vena Cava has created a wonderful commentary on growing up, accepting love and the importance of getting lit with your friends.