Theatre interview: Team behind The House on to a winner

Couples collide and collude in The House. Picture: David Monteith-Hodge
Couples collide and collude in The House. Picture: David Monteith-Hodge
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The multiple award-winning team behind The House should be a hot ticket – if the rapid-fire script doesn’t trip them up, writes Mark Fisher

Pauline Goldsmith and David Calvitto are remembering the time they went on holiday together. She had a friend with a house in Spain, so after the two actors had finished their respective Edinburgh Fringe runs, it seemed like a good idea to fly south. With a few other Fringe friends, they booked their tickets. But then Goldsmith couldn’t get in touch with the owner. Too late – they had nowhere to stay.

“We were basically just driving about,” she says. “I got food poisoning,” says Calvitto. “One of the worst nights of my life.”

“I do remember you saying, ‘There’s no reason we all have to stick together.’ And I’m like, ‘No, it’s fine.’ And you were saying, ‘We can all do our own thing!’”

“Things were getting a little tense for some reason,” laughs Calvitto.

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If their friendship survived that, it’ll surely prove robust enough to get through the intensity of a Fringe performing together for the first time. It might even help in their portrayal of a neurotic ­married couple in The House. Written by Brian Parks, this high-voltage ­comedy is about a possessive husband and wife who won’t move out of their property until they’ve vetted the new owners. Things appear to go swimmingly until they start to suspect the incoming Libetts are not “the right kind of people” after all.

“We have an abnormal relationship with our house,” says Calvitto. “Never mind ‘not in my back yard’ this is ‘not in my house.’”

Abnormal it may be, but many will recognise the impulse to enshrine their home, as if the walls have somehow absorbed their memories. “My mum threw out an old bed and my brother drove up to the dump to find it because it was like a museum to his childhood,” says Goldsmith. “It’s like you’ve had happiness so it’s all got to stay the same.”

It’s not a characteristic she shares: “I’m never happier than when I’m in a hotel because then I don’t have to deal with all the nonsense I’ve created. Being in a hotel is like when it snows. Snow is a great equaliser because your house looks like ev­eryone else’s. When I’m in a hotel I get to pretend I’m like everyone else, as opposed to the deep, awful reality of my home.”

The combination of Goldsmith (Northern Irish and living in Glasgow), Calvitto (North American and living in London) and Parks (at home in New York City), is something of a Fringe dream team. Between them and director Margarett Perry, they have ten Scotsman Fringe Firsts – plus two Stage Awards for Acting Excellence.

Goldsmith and Calvitto have known each other since 2002 when they had consecutive slots at Assembly, she putting the fun into funeral in Bright Colours Only, he digging into the heart of the USA in Horse Country by CJ Hopkins and picking up his Stage Award in the process. Although they weren’t able to see each other’s shows, they inevitably bumped into each other throughout the run.

“There’s a weird international community thing on the Fringe where you never see the person and then it’s totally intense,” says Goldsmith, who is also starring in Handfast, a “comedy with canapés” by Edinburgh’s Nutshell.

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In plays such as 2000’s Americana Absurdum and last year’s Enterprise (both Fringe First winners), Parks has cornered the market in high-velocity blink-and-you-miss it verbal fireworks, creating a series of heightened and satirical visions of 21st-century living. Calvitto is a past master at hitting every tongue-twisting syllable, but he says The House is relatively restrained.

“It’s very fast,” he admits. “But this is Brian’s Alan Ayckbourn. It’s the only play I’ve done of Brian’s where you have a character and you can say, ‘Well, he’s a dentist, he makes this much money.’ He’s an actual person, whereas in other Brian Parks plays, it’s like, ‘This is a person who speaks really quickly.’ The characters are funny in that Brian Parks way, but just not to that extreme.”

The distinction is relative, however. When the play debuted in 2014, one reviewer wrote about the “whiplash fragments of conversation, zipping between the actors like pinball or a super-fast handball game”.

Goldsmith looks to Calvitto for reassurance, hoping her award-winning turn handling the high-precision language of Samuel Beckett’s Not I will stand her in good stead. “Somebody said you don’t do Not I, it does you,” she says. “You have to absorb it so that you don’t think about it. Is it like that?”

“Can you type and carry on a conversation?” asks Calvitto. “That’s what you have to learn how to do. Doing Parks is like typing 80 words a minute.”

• The House is at Assembly George Square Studios, until 27 August, 2:50pm; Handfast is at Summer­hall, until 25 August, 7:40pm