The Living Room review

Theatre, Drama
4 out of 5 stars
The Living Room Melbourne Fringe 2019 supplied
Photograph: Supplied

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

This absurd comedy duo from LA find the funny in life's – and death's – darkest moments

The grief after a death can suck. A lot. It can suck the lightness out of your body and leave a pain so heavy you can feel it sitting in a space somewhere between your heart and forever. And what better way to explore this feeling than through an absurdist clown comedy about death and grief?

The Living Room was developed by Amrita Dhaliwal and Gemma Soldati in 2018. They are from Los Angeles and came to Melbourne Fringe via the Hollywood and Edinburgh fringes, where the show got a lot of stars and love and was left tight, assured and ready to wow another city.  

With a stage decorated with old lace tablecloths and telephones from every generation, they may have found their literal spiritual home in the tchotchke wonderland of the Butterfly Club with its every-thing-from-every-op-shop decor.

Amrita, the character, is an accountant of death who spends her days answering phonecalls and recording the toll. Every death is recorded; we don’t know why. Wearing full 1800s-cum-groovy-goth mourning black, complete with a crinoline hoop skirt, mock-damask corset, veils and surprises, she’s been in the job for a long time. Gemma, the character, wears a respectful suit for her first day as Amrita’s new apprentice. 

From a perfect entrance – who knew it were possible on that tiny stage – the audience are welcomed as part of the show; we’re gathered in a quiet room and mostly wearing black, after all.

There’s also a goldfish on the stage because pets, like loved celebrities, never die…

There are a lot of early laughs, but they are accountants of death and those phones keep ringing. 

It’s a work developed from both women’s personal experience of grief. Maybe it’s macabre to make an outrageous surreal comedy about that pain, or maybe the only release when emotions are unbearable is laughter. Who hasn’t embarrassingly laughed at the most inappropriate time in real life?

The Living Room was made in the time after death. It explores that space where grief is gallivanting around the room or hiding so well that you’re floored when it leaps out again. It’s devised from their experiences, including some that aren’t about death, but isn’t their personal story. This leaves room for the stories of everyone who sees it. 

These stories become heavy in the room without being overwhelming. For all its don’t-do-that comedy, it’s a positive and loving experience. They address the big feels with a touch that’s deft and gentle, even when it’s delivered with exaggerated physical comedy, Punjabi nursery rhymes and vodka. Grief also comes with a lot of love and eventually visits with warmth and laughter that let us feel better rather than awkward.

It’s a story made from life and even if we’re convinced that we know what happens after life, we really have no flipping idea. The only certainty is that we’ll find out. Unless we don’t. And if you think you know what’s about to happen in this show, you’re probably wrong.

Coming from the other side of the world, Dhaliwal and Soldati aren’t known in Melbourne. It’s easy to see trusted local performers during a festival, but if you don’t see the ones you don’t know, you might miss a show that might make you feel a whole lot better about all sorts of things, even if you don’t know if your tears are from laughter or grief. And, they might not come back to us, which would be worth grieving about.

By: Anne-Marie Peard



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