Pros: Full of laughs with a strong evocation of place.
Cons: The happy ending is satisfying but not entirely convincing.
Small Village is written by, and stars, Kelly Griffiths. Griffiths plays Sheila Bevan, a loud-mouthed busybody whose world view is informed by Jeremy Kyle, Carol-who-runs-the-post-office, and an entire lifetime spent in the same Welsh village of Cwmdare. Self-important and bigoted, Bevan is utterly infuriating and very nearly loathsome. But in both the writing and the performance, Griffiths gives her just enough sympathetic features – loyalty, humour and loneliness – to save her from being irredeemably awful.
The small world of Cwmdare is shaken by the arrival of Susan, an English, lesbian, single mother. Sheila is appalled and is unhesitatingly offensive to her new neighbour, who in turn responds robustly! There follows a minor crisis. The results of said crisis see secrets disclosed, minds opened and prejudices broken down. It’s a pretty simple, textbook narrative arc, as indeed it must be for a one hour show. It’s also a little bit trite, with a rather too easy happy ending. Sheila’s casual bigotry and lazy assumptions are, it turns out, purely the product of her environment. Faced with a real-life lesbian (who is conveniently sweet-natured, unthreatening and forgiving), Sheila’s attitudes are quickly overturned. I’m not sure that’s the way it always happens.
As political comedy, Small Village is more comical than political. It is a rather funny and good-natured show, which mocks ignorance, complacency and parochialism. The characters and situation are painted with broad brush-strokes to serve comedy rather than debate. Only Sheila and her best friend David, played with warmth by Peter Halpin, are given any sort of backstory. David is a happy-go-lucky chap who tries gently to challenge Sheila’s entrenched views, without loving her any the less for holding them. Susan the nice lesbian and Shivram the nice Asian doctor, are arguably not much better drawn than the efficient black rubbish-collector, who is discussed but never seen. Both serve only as foils to Sheila, and both meet her hostility with a surprising degree of generosity.
The Etcetera Theatre is a small ‘black box’ space, and there was little set to speak of, just some tables and chairs used resourcefully. Yet there was a strong sense of place, with Sheila yelling over the road to Carol, peering out of her kitchen window or doorstepping Susan about the dustmen. The cast and direction successfully brought the estate to life. It being a Saturday afternoon, they were aided in some scenes, and hampered in others, by the fairly consistent noise from Camden market coming through the theatre walls.
Small Village is great fun if you don’t overthink it. The writing is exceptionally sharp and the laughs come thick and fast. It is also that wonderful thing, casual theatre; a short, sweet show that doesn’t require huge investments of time, cash or brainpower. Whether Griffiths can, or would want to develop it further, I don’t know. She is obviously a talented writer with an ear for dialogue and it will be interesting to see what she comes up with next.
Author: Kelly Griffiths
Director: Jack Elliot-Thomson
Booking until: This show has now ended its run