[The following contains spoilers.]
A rat has trickled up through the floorboards and into a cupboard which is filled with broken and abandoned household items. There is a tattered sack, a length of frayed rope, a broom with half its bristles gone, piles of newspapers, a single right-footed boot, and a cuckoo clock with more cuckoo left than clock. The rat cannot get out of the cupboard again and it apparently dies.
This is the whole of the plot of Gemma Aked-Priestley’s new play “The Cupboard,” but thankfully everything in the cupboard apart from the newspapers is granted speech and sentient awareness. The company, Turn the Key, hails from Norwich and “The Cupboard” is currently established at Paradise in the Vault. “The Cupboard” is entertainingly absurdist but it altogether lacks the sexiness which you really need to see in surrealism. To be frank, it looks and sounds like a children’s TV show from the 1980s. There is the same over-energetic acting, the same singalongs every five minutes, the same sock puppets and garishness, the same sense that everything is patchwork and constructed from cardboard. So it is fun, but not sexy.
Jules Chant-Tuft puts in a respectable performance as the Rat, capturing something of the shivery restlessness of these creatures. For all of this, the Rat is a sort of visionary, on a walkabout after experiencing disturbing prophetic dreams. Adrian Moore has the blues in his fingertips at the ensemble’s guitar player and this spookiness occasionally adds an unexpected edge to the kids-TV singing. There is a belated foray into Ripperology towards the end of this play but aside from the mention of a “scarred hand” it doesn’t put forward any new clue about the identity of the murderer. Still, one should not be churlish: for a story about some odds and ends quarrelling in a cupboard, this play makes it rather further than you might expect.