18 July 2014
…while The Other Way Works is a Birmingham-based company that also pays house calls, specialising in immersive theatre experiences for a game audience.
“It feels much more intimate and it’s thrilling entering the audience’s world,” says Louise Platt, star of The Other Way Works’ one-woman show Avon Calling. “The contract is flipped around and the lines between fiction and reality are blurred. I like to think I leave the ghost of what has taken place – and the smell of countless beauty products – in their private space.”…
Avon Calling – Review
*** 3 Stars, Reviewed by Lyn Gardner, 20 March 2012
For those of a certain generation, the ding-dong of the doorbell signifies that the Avon lady is coming to call with her samples of lotions and potions. So it’s rather appropriate that this show, created by the Other Way Works, takes place not in theatres, but in people’s homes. I saw it in a private house in Camden, where, alas, there was no bell, only a knocker, which made it sound as if the bailiffs had come to call.
The Avon Lady in this instance is called Debbie, and when she arrives with her samples in her red suitcases, she nervously thanks Avon for so many years of “empowering women” and us for “taking the time for beauty”. Her smiles are bright but provisional. “Eyes like diamonds,” she keeps reminding herself. She seems strangely unnerved.
What follows is 90 minutes of fun and games that feels like a grownup version of a 1950s children’s party, including Kim’s Game and a lipstick version of pin the tail on the donkey. It culminates in a brilliant spoof relaxation tape with Lucy Ellinson perfectly capturing the cadences of Reese Witherspoon, Avon’s global ambassador. Apparently we can all put “creative rejuvenation” into our lives with one squirt of Witherspoon’s signature fragrance.
There are prizes and free samples along the way, and the mood is upbeat and giggly, but it soon becomes clear not all is well with Debbie – she appears to be hearing messages from her dead mum, who is speaking to her from out of the pots of face cream. As the mother-and-daughter relationship unravels from beyond the grave, it’s soon clear Debbie has got problems a new eyeshadow is never going to solve.
This is a very entertaining show, and touching, too, although the company may have missed a trick in making this a personal story of grief and breaking with the past, rather than feeding more directly into the love-hate relationship that many women have with cosmetics and their dubious promises. The final few minutes are undoubtedly moving – and performer Louise Platt is never less than convincing in her bright-eyed desperation – but the emotional climax feels a trifle unearned. Still, it’s fun, it’s different, and it beats a Tupperware party any day.
4 April 2012
Avon Calling: A night at the theatre from the comfort of your own sitting room
One-woman show Avon Calling is an interactive theatre experience with a difference – it takes place in people’s homes. Alice Jones turned her south London flat into a stage for a poignant perfumed-themed party
The stage is set. I’ve pushed back the coffee table, dragged the dining room chairs into the sitting room and whisked my housemate’s socks off the radiator. The audience (nine of my friends) is gathering in the bar (my kitchen) drinking white wine, chilled to a degree unheard of in most stalls bars. They’re here because, for one night only, I have converted my flat in Brixton – some five miles from the ritz and glitz of the West End and as yet undiscovered as a hub for the dramatic arts – into a theatre. On the bill is Avon Calling, an “intimate Avon party with a theatrical twist” by Louise Platt, a 32-year old actress from Birmingham, who travels the country performing in ticket-holders’ homes for audiences of 10 people at a time.
“Ladies and gentlemen, would you please take your seats for this evening’s performance”, announces Gareth Nicholls, our stage manager for the night. “And please remember to switch off all mobile phones.” We file into the next room, squash up on the sofa and assorted chairs and await curtain rise – or, in this case, the doorbell. This is a play about an Avon lady, after all.
“Ding dong!” The door opens to reveal “Debs”, our friendly Avon rep, shivering in an unflattering coral skirt suit and blue eyeshadow on the front step. Once inside she pops on a CD of Pretty Woman and begins to unpack her display – Arabian Glow bronzing pearls, Skin So Soft hand cream and Celebre eau de toilette – from three battered red suitcases. We sit and watch, nervously. It’s one thing plunging voluntarily into the immersive theatre worlds created by site-specific companies, it’s quite another having one crash into your home and set up shop between your television and the pot plant.
Billed as “an intimate solo performance for real homes”, Avon Calling is no ordinary one-woman show. The realisation dawns: if Platt is playing the hostess of our fake Avon bash tonight, it must be down to us to play the guests. Sure enough, we’re soon called upon to get the party started. “I feel like tonight is going to be a special night,” says Debs, instructing us to introduce ourselves, tell the room our favourite colour and give it a pretentious adjective, “like they do in the Avon catalogues”. “My name is Alice and I like regal purple,” I say, tentatively. “My name is Ed and I like camouflage green,” growls one of two males in tonight’s audience, possibly sensing his masculinity is under threat. Little does he suspect that within an hour he will be relaxing to the latest meditation CD from “Avon Ambassador” Reese Witherspoon – with cucumber slices on his eyes.
Egged on by free samples and the charming Debs – and the fact that the “house lights” are blazing down on both rows of the stalls, making it very hard to be a wallflower – everyone gamely plays their part. Over the course of the 90-minute show, there are rounds of Kim’s game and “Pin the lipstick on the Avon Lady”, bronzer demos (“We’ll just do half the face, Cate…”), hand massages and liberal spritzing of the nostril-burning “Essence of Man”.
It’s not all fun and games. While Debs has a nice line in cosmetic-themed double entendre and a tongue-in-cheek take on the company ethos, Avon Calling is more than a slapstick cabaret act. It’s also a drama that takes an unexpected emotional turn as we catch a glimpse of the “real” Avon Lady beneath the chirpy, foundation-slathered surface. Between games, Debs tells us about her late mother, an Avon Lady to the tips of her manicured fingernails, whose dedication to the brand veered on obsession. Our hostess, it is implied, is now in danger of going the same way as she tries to keep her mother’s spirit alive with pots of moisturiser and bargain shower gel. Out of the superficial silliness, Platt crafts a poignant piece –an elegy for happier times and perhaps for the heyday of Avon itself.
The story was loosely inspired by the playwright’s own mother, who worked as the local Avon Lady when Platt was growing up in the tiny Northamptonshire village of Yelvertoft. “She still buys a lot of Avon. There’s too much of it in the house,” says Platt. She too worked as an Avon rep for a year in the name of research. Was it enjoyable? “Yes… to a degree. Some things about it were quite empowering – having knowledge to offer people. It’s really good value but you have to sell quite a lot to make a commission.”
As co-founder of The Other Way Works, a Birmingham-based company who specialise in interactive, immersive theatre outside of the traditional black box, Platt knew from the start that she wanted to stage her play in real homes. The company’s last show, a detective thriller called Black Tonic, was performed in the bedrooms and corridors of various city hotels for two couples at a time. Previous productions include a one-on-one “date” in a theatre bar, a sound-and-light show in a two-man tent that toured the summer festivals and a play in an empty unit in the Mailbox shopping centre in Birmingham. It is currently working on a promenade sound piece to play on park bandstands.
Avon Calling is now touring until July – stopping off in Oxford, Bristol, Ipswich, Harrogate and Cardiff after its London run. Audience members book through theatres, providing their home address is within a certain distance of the box office… “For the company, it’s an efficient way of touring”… says Platt. …“This way a theatre can have two shows running at once – one on its stage, and another in people’s homes.”
There is something both old-fashioned – recalling the days of rich patrons welcoming in travelling players – and very of-the-moment about Avon Calling, which plays on the vogue for site-specific productions and audience interaction in hit shows from Punchdrunk’s The Masque of the Red Death to One Man, Two Guvnors. Welcoming a stranger into one’s home takes the intimacy of those shows to another level. There is a certain thrill in watching a personalised performance from an actress so close you can see her pores and Debs’ story is all the more affecting for playing out at the foot of my sofa rather than a stage. Platt, who also works as a drama therapist, is most interested by how audiences react. “Some can be overly chatty – people forget they’re watching a play because of the blurred edges,” she says. “We’d never tell an audience off. We want people to take a risk in interacting but we don’t want to humiliate them. We always want the audience to be the most important people in the production.”
As the party draws to a close, we help Debs to pack away her display and usher her out of the front door, suitcases, mirrors and all. “I told you tonight was going to be a special night,” she says, with a shiny coral grin. And with that, she’s gone, leaving behind a room filled with “Essence of Man” and one knotty problem for the would-be home theatre impresario. Can you applaud a performer who is no longer there? We do it anyway – warmly and enthusiastically.
Camden New Journal
THEATRE: Avon Calling – Sprint Festival
Reviewed by Russell Parton, 15 March 2012
On enquiring how long the performance was and receiving the answer: “It depends on how talkative you all are,” I knew this was going to be something out of the ordinary – a feeling compounded by the fact I was sitting not in a theatre but in someone’s living room.
Avon Calling by The Other Way Works company is a peripatetic “theatrical event” being staged as part of the annual Sprint Festival that takes place in and around the Camden People’s Theatre.
In this case, the venue is people’s own homes.
With a cast of one, the audience numbers 10 people…
Louise Platt plays Debs, an Avon representative with a Reese Witherspoon fixation whose breezy charm belies deep underlying troubles.
After thanking us for “taking time out for beauty” and setting up her display of perfumes and make-up, the audience is treated to a hilarious sales demonstration involving variations on party games and free samples of beauty products.
In the cosy confines of your living room, the usual relationship between audience and performer is reconfigured and the audience drawn into the performance.
Debs involves the audience at every stage, asking questions and responding off the cuff.
Anonymity is not an option.
Platt performs with excellent comic poise and is equally assured when her saleswoman persona slips – which it frequently does – and her doubts and insecurities show through.
Debs leaves as she entered, by the front door, her lipstick matching the colour of her suitcases.
Avon Calling celebrates and ridicules oldfashioned femininity through her character, an unknowing comedian whose sales schtick and comic actions undermine the “eyes like diamonds” dignity she holds too dear.
The Guardian Theatre Blog
Monday Theatre Roundup, Lyn Gardner, 12 March 2012
It’s hard performing in any intimate space, but harder still when you’re in someone’s house and the assembled audience are pretty well all critics – with notebooks at the ready. That was the situation facing Louise Platt on Friday evening, who plays, Deb, a nervous Avon representative attempting to host a cosmetics party in Avon Calling, a show by The Other Way Works which is currently touring the country, playing not venues but people’s homes. Platt did a brilliant job, despite the proximity of the critical gaze. But one of the things the evening reminded me is how differently audiences behave outside of traditional theatre settings. Avon Calling has masses of audience participation, and we critics were joining in. Miracles do happen – or maybe it was just the lure of the free samples.
Review – Avon Calling
Reviewed by Jake Orr, 11 March 2012
The launch of the annual Sprint Festival at Camden People’s Theatre took place not in a theatre as expected, but in the living room for an intimate audience of ten people. Birmingham-based The Other Way Works presented its newest out-of-the-confines-of-a-theatre-space show Avon Calling. Based on the 125-year-old ‘ding-dong’ of Avon representatives across the world who bring beauty into the homes of the everyday person, Avon Calling is a delicate piece of immersive storytelling.
The door bell rings promptly at 5.30pm, and into the living room comes Deborah (Louise Platt), our Avon representative for the evening. Dressed in a luminous pink suit, carrying red suitcases and bringing the faint whiff of perfume into the air, Deborah begins the 90-minute exploration of Avon products, history and personal stories. It’s an intimate, tender, often laugh-out-loud piece of work that combines an interactive environment for its small audience with a story of a girl bearing the weight of her mother’s expectations. …
At times when its increasingly hard to get your work programmed at venues unless you’re banging on the doors demanding to be let in, it’s good to see The Other Way Works exploring theatre beyond the solid walls of a traditional venue. Taking the intimate performance into the even more intimate environment of a living room is one way of proving that theatre can exist outside a proscenium arch or black box studio. Whilst it’s not ground-breaking, Avon Calling is certainly a charming piece of theatre thinking outside the box. Full of giggles and tenderness it makes for the perfect start to Sprint, a festival challenging our perspectives on theatre and performance curated by the new artistic team at Camden People’s Theatre.
Review – Avon Calling
**** 4 Stars
Reviewed by Mohini Howard, 16 June 2011
DING Dong Avon Calling… Oh hello, a performance in my living room was about to begin!
My teenage son posted on Facebook that “something strange was happening downstairs!”
And so it was. …
There followed an hour of ‘games’ and sales rep dialogue with audience participation encouraged by the somewhat vulnerable character Debra the Avon Lady played by Louise Platt.
Taking us through the paces with her creams, perfumes and lipsticks Debra simultaneously allows glimpses into her troubled life with an uneasy intimacy that’s cleverly reeled back with humour, just about sparing the house guests.
Birmingham-based theatre company The Other Way Works has been taking this unique experience, commissioned by the MAC, around people’s houses. …
As for me, being host to Avon Calling created an enjoyable evening without the hassle of taxis, jostling for drinks at the bar or stuck in an uncomfortable seat. …
This was a thought-provoking performance and a lovely evening with friends in the comfort of my own home.