Fringe 2008, Gryphon Theatre
Feb 26-March 1 | Reviewed by Kate Blackhurst

THE ORIGINAL title of this play, Real, had to be changed for legal reasons, which is a shame as it gives a much better indication of the subject than Location, Location. Real estate collides with real life and both have issues of equivocation, little white lies and great big dirty whopping deceit.

The play begins with an auction, where the characters have been planted in the audience to make bids. Immediately the dodgy practices of the industry are exposed as we are told, ‘good auction is like a piece of theatre’. The estate agents are marketing psychology and creating excitement to reduce inhibitions. They need to know everything about cleaning, lighting, plumbing and bread making, rather than selling. It’s all about impressions – what people pay for a house is what they think they’re worth.

There is mention of disgruntled customers; the commerce commission; unethical pressure on vendors; and a topical reference to The Joneses. Words can mean whatever you want them to mean in real estate; ‘Make sure the contract is signed and you can interpret it later’. The agents claim that the idea is not to fool people, but simply to sell houses; they deal with ‘the professional pairing of people and property’. It is no coincidence that this scene segues into another in a music shop where ‘Money for Nothing’ is being played.

John Street (Phil Darkins) is the leading partner. He is smarmy, narcissistic and over-confident; although he has reason, having made 100 million in residential sales. His is a one-dimensional character, but people who live for their work often are. He lectures a colleague, ‘If you were serious about real estate you wouldn’t take a day off’ and it is clear that he doesn’t have a ‘real life’ outside his job.

He is crass to women and unable to form a meaningful relationship; he delivers a hugely inappropriate pastiche of speeches at a colleague’s funeral which displays his lack of genuine emotion and merely labels people as marketing targets. Indeed, real estate agents see things differently from the rest of us; when a couple who were going to separate get back together, it is a ‘stroke of luck’ as they are forced to sell their house to pay for the lawyers’ fees.

Andrew Middleton (Todd Rippon) is the most rounded of all the characters; he is friendly and normal despite a preoccupation with ageing and death. He explains ‘If I were to use one word to describe my life it would be okay’. He believes that his role as a real estate agent is to facilitate the cleansing process; new people clean and repair the houses – everything gets old and decays but you can halt the process. He is concerned that he too is getting old and, perhaps as an antidote to this, begins a relationship with Kate, a young waitress/retail assistant at a music shop.

Kate (Melanie Camp) is suitably young and funky, says ‘sweet’ a lot, and is full of attitude and platitudes. Her laughable jargon is as bad as that of the marketing-speak; ‘We’re human beings not human doings.’ She hates suits and people who think they are better than everyone, and is more like 13 than 23 in her youthful idealism and naivety. As Andrew tells her later, idealism is all very well, but you have to do something to pay the bills.

Their ‘relationship’ reeks of a sad middle-aged man trying to hit on a young girl to maintain his youth, which raises a couple of niggling questions. Why do the older generation assume that their culture is inferior to the glamour of the young? Why would a 23-year old girl go out with a 42 year old guy and then accuse of him of being boring and conservative? How can she work in a music shop and not have heard of The Specials and, even worse, ska?

The other two characters are opposite sides of womanhood. Maddison, ‘with a double d’ is played with dramatic hyperbole by Lucy Edwards, which lures you into thinking she is merely a dumb blonde. In contrast, Janey (Pip O’Connell) is serious and earnest to the point of neurosis. It is hard to play the straight person to the comedy roles but she does it well, fuelled by past injustices and an obsession with her biological clock.

The pace of the play is generally good although it drags a little towards the end. There is an unnecessarily long scene change and some dubious lighting and sound cues. The final scene also seems superfluous and merely lessens the impact of the previous image, with its implication that if it all sounds a bit weird, it’s probably real.