Cass and James return to their childhood home to pack up their things for one last time. As they put years of memories into boxes and bags, the past comes rushing back, and growing up suddenly doesn’t seem so easy.
How to Use a Washing Machine is extremely relatable content. The show begins with Cass and James, bickering but ultimately loving siblings, battling snow-inflicted train delays to get back to their family home. They sing about the frustration of it all (for it is in fact a musical, which I did not know at first, but guessed from the wonderful string quartet onstage), and do a great job to rise audibly above the strings. It is immediately clear that both Emelye Moulton (Cass) and Joe Winter (James) have strong voices, and seem confident and comfortable onstage. This such an important feature in a two-hander – especially one that involves as many monologues and solos as this.
The scenes that follow have Cass and James confront their childhood dreams and aspirations, pausing to reflect on how differently things have turned out to what they had imagined. Cass laments her confusion over how to use a washing machine (mildly worrying, given that she apparently lives alone), and James relives his childhood dream of becoming a dancer. The self-aware mention of Billy Elliot was enough to forgive the musical cliche, though it was a bit unclear at what point he went from ballet star to banker rah. Joe Davies’ score was upbeat and nicely varied throughout, my favourite moment being a brief solo of Cass’ that reminded me of Alanis Morrissette’s You Oughta Know (whose angsty vibe fitted the character to a T).
Broadly, both actors handle the script and songs with impressive ease, and give life to two characters that are each equal parts endearing and unbearable. James and Cass, the sell-out ‘boring success’ and self-righteous ‘arty failure’ respectively, are both annoying. Admittedly, both are going through quarter-life crises over their careers and choices, but their hypocrisy and constant critique of each other didn’t make me feel hugely sorry for either of them. This made the philosophising monologues that came later in the play a little less than welcome. The script hinted at a couple of things that might have been explored further, like Cass’ devil-may-care attitude towards her own mental health, and James’ anxiety over being the family’s only source of stability. These elements, however, were exchanged for some more general complaints over the hardships of modern life and adulthood. Whilst it was positive that Georgie Botham stuck to the age-old truism of ‘write what you know’, it felt like she might have some more insightful comments that she didn’t quite get to express in these generalisations.
Nonetheless, there are some well-observed comic lines in the script, ranging from jabs at corporate lad culture to confusion over which wash you’re supposed to put a stripy shirt in (I still don’t really know the answer to this?). But the funniest moment was undoubtedly a line slip-up from Moulton, whose unexpected but serendipitous ‘weteronormative het dream’ entertained audience and actors alike. It’s a testament to Moulton’s skill that she remained in character and returned to the script so comfortably after the blunder, and if anything, added a nice naturalism to her posturing lecturing of her older brother.
SLAM Theatre’s How to Use a Washing Machine promises to make you laugh, remember flying the nest, and remind you to look for cats next time you use the tumble dryer. All of these it does. Whilst it isn’t daring or ground-breaking, it is a feel-good, sentimental and charming piece, and I wish the company all the best on their tour.
How to Use a Washing Machine continues its run at Theatre 503, Greater Manchester Fringe and Edinburgh Fringe Festival.