There are two rites of passage for every Australian: Working overseas, and living in a sharehouse.
For performers and couple Robbie Smith and Lala Barlow, that experience was combined when they moved from Melbourne to London and lived in a warehouse with 12 other people. “We’re talking about a place with two bathrooms and 12 people; it’s pretty disgusting, to say the least,” Robbie laughs.
While not the best living circumstance, that time proved memorable enough to inspire the couple’s cabaret show ‘The Worst Little Warehouse in London’, which they’ll perform at the Adelaide Fringe Festival.
The couple moved to London after a discussion involving “too much wine and a visa timeclock”. Upon arrival, they moved in to the rundown warehouse crowded with a cast of quirky characters, including painters, a cam girl, and a philandering yoga teacher. “Next door to us was this singer-songwriter who had dreams of being quite famous. By day he was a speech-pathologist, but by night he was fighting a war against arms trading and believed big brother was spying on us and would put tape over all the cameras,” Robbie says.
As Robbie and Lala made more friends in London, they realised how unique their warehouse was. “It was the night that we were moving out that we sat down and reflected on the people we’d lived with and this experience. Every time we talked about where we lived, people would be fascinated and want to know more about it. We started jotting some ideas down of what a show would look like and then a few months later we cobbled together this story.”
The show has challenged Robbie and Lala. The couple play all 12 roles, using props and different accents for each character, and some tactical on-stage wardrobe changes when transitioning between characters, all while playing keyboard, dancing, and singing. However, the most trying task was writing the script, especially as a couple.
“I have a newfound appreciation for anybody who can write; that is a very, very hard thing to do,” Robbie admits. “And working with someone you happen to be in a relationship with, that’s a whole other level of creative conflict. The normal exchange and deliberation over a creative idea isn’t there; the other person will just say, ‘No, that idea’s sh.t. We’re not doing it’,” he laughs.
While that warehouse was the worst, Robbie and Lala look back on the time fondly. “I would say this was the worst and best. There were some good parties, we got a show out of it, and it was a pretty interesting time. It was very good, but no one should ever live with 12 people.”