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City Slices & Country Crumbs, Hen and Chickens Theatre – Review

Judy Upton, Melanie Hunter, Camilla Whitehill and Wendy Thomson

Directed by Tessa Shrubsall and Charlie Ely
★★★
Pros: An eclectic mix of light-hearted and serious insights into life in England with some laugh-out-loud moments.
Cons: The four ten-minute plays didn’t manage to go beyond being rather cursory glances into what could have been interesting topics. 
Our Verdict: A thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a night with friends and be introduced to some emerging young playwrights.
Courtesy of Grey and Green Theatre
The production City Slices and Country Crumbs sets out to showcase four new emerging playwrights and dramatize different experiences of life in England. The small stage above the Hen and Chickens pub in Islington is transformed, in turn, into a seaside town with soft splashing waves, rolling hills and gentle cows, a privileged London borough and a bare kitchen in 1920s Newcastle.
The young theatre company Grey and Green, which was set up by Charlie Ely and Tessa Shrubsall, chose these four ten-minute plays from over 60 submissions. Unfortunately, the individual plays are, for the most part, too short to address their topics in any detail or depth. A short hour later, I was left wondering what it was all about, and wanting a bit more substance.
Milk by Judy Upton
In this dark comedy sketch we’re presented with two young lovers who embark on a journey to discover their world turned upside-down, a world in which British milk is sold to American consumers while the British public drinks a nasty mix of water, calcium and white powder. The play, and the relationship between dairy farmer and lactose intolerant girl, is funny and endearing, but I couldn’t help wishing that playwright Judy Upton had fleshed out her boarder point a little. The play attempted to address some interesting and timely political questions regarding the British food industry, but was not constructed well enough to really bring these points across and seemed, as a result, slightly confused and disorganised. I’ll be looking out for Judy Upton’s writing though – with a bit more stage time, it might prove to be really promising. 
A Little While Longer by Melanie Hunter
I enjoyed this play by Melanie Hunter best; a beautiful performance by Samantha Leverette and a touching and compelling monologue that gave the audience an insight into a woman’s world in Newcastle in the early twentieth century. Recounted by her spirit, which has been trapped on the earth up until today and marvels at technological innovations such as Twitter, we learn of Marjory’s harsh life, in which a woman does what’s expected of her. Her anguish at the death of her only son melts into a belief that his death saved him, at least, from becoming like his drunkard father – a sad tale with a happy ending nonetheless. 
The Seaside by Camilla Whitehill
A man and a teenage girl sit on the beach in the early morning and talk. They talk about their hopes and ambitions, the lack of them, and about their love/hate relationship with their small seaside town of Hastings. Amy surprises Luke, who considers her “just another Hastings girl”, with her ambitions to go to university, and ultimately seems to inspire Luke to break free from his humdrum existence. The dialogue is confusing, however, and the trope of the inexperienced but enterprising youngster reviving the disenchanted older man’s dreams and hopes is not very original. I would have liked more context, too – I didn’t feel as though I really got to know the two characters. I did enjoy Nicholas Clarke’s performance as dishevelled Luke though, who brought some life and action to the play.
Chelsea & Henriette by Wendy Thomson
This play by Wendy Thomson is amusing, and actors Georgia Clarke-Day and Natasha Dowd are fun to watch. However it did lack substance, and any social commentary that might have been intended was not obvious. Set in an unnamed privileged city borough, vulgar Chelsea and Henriette stalk through their lives, constantly on their phones, dreaming of make-up and rich boys. It was probably my least favourite of the four, and was also the only one that went on too long.
In summary, a laudable endeavour to give four young playwrights a stage, and some impressive acting performances. If you’re in Islington on a weekday night, you could do worse than see this production. 
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

City Slices and Country Crumbs runs at the Hen and Chickens Theatre until 21st September 2013.

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