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Flat 15 - The Recordings by Laura Milbourne

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No Holds Barred Productions, 21 April 2012
 
Set in a seedy student flat in Sunderland, Flat 15 centres around four friends - Jamie (Chris Stafford), Katy (Grace Wakes), Jess (Carley Armstrong), and Dean (Rob Barker). They first met during a year spent in halls of residence; now they have decided to live together. At first Laura Milbourne's play depicts the kind of lifestyle commonly associated with students - living on beans on toast, partying out late, working (occasionally) in the library to cram as much work into as short a space of time as possible, borrowing each other's possessions and failing to give them back, and living in such a state of squalor that they cannot find anything. One of the girls accuses everyone of having taken her best pair of pants, which will prevent her from pulling successfully at the next party.
 
A radio geek in the making, Jamie decides to make a low-budget radio documentary where he records every aspect of his flatmates' lives. They reluctantly agree to be interviewed, and for the most part offer the kind of banal answers that one might expect. Sample answers include - living together in a flat is a great experience, work should not get in the way of parties, and so on. However things start to go wrong when the students feel that there is an unseen presence in the house stalking them, while also contributing to Jamie's recording. At first they think it is just a figment of their imagination, but discover to their cost that the presence is very much alive.
 
Flat 13 makes much of radio's capacity to record disembodied voices and make them appear both 'real' yet 'unreal.' When we hear a documentary, we are often told who the speakers are, but we have no way of knowing whether their names correspond to the voices we hear. Radio has this capacity to play this kind of confidence trick: all the voices might belong to one person. In Flat 13 no one is quite sure who the disembodied voice is - even though its identity is revealed. This makes everyone - including the listeners - feel distinctly uncomfortable.
 
Laura Milbourne has a good ear for dialogue and a talent for characterization. Her youthful cast work hard to create a compelling short play: I just wish they could find a better way of asking each other to be silent, rather than repeating "Shut up!" all the time.