Pros: Sharp writing and good performances characterise this collection of scenes set in a tube train
Cons: The lack of connection between the stories means we’re constantly having to get to know new characters
“Make sure you take your belongings with you when you leave this life.” So runs the announcement that introduces this sharply observational piece set entirely on a tube train. The young cast each play multiple roles, as we eavesdrop on conversations and snatched exchanges between strangers; tight direction gives the impression that we’re viewing a crowded train carriage, despite the fact that there are only five of them.
Scene changes are indicated by a rearrangement of the three banks of triple underground seats that make up the set, sometimes placed side by side, sometimes back to back. A change of accent indicates a different character, accompanied by the addition or removal of a hat or a waistcoat. The result is a montage of disconnected scenes, each exploring a different aspect of what it means to live and commute in London. Loneliness, love, busking, despair, the start of new relationships, the rockiness of existing ones – the human condition is fully explored here.
The social mores of the underground are examined in detail. Interaction between strangers is tentative and often apologetic, except in exceptional circumstances: the lateral thinking puzzle that keeps a broken-down train entertained, the drunken long-term couple appealing to fellow passengers for validation.
Scenes are discrete and disjointed, and frequently stop without ending. There are some interesting characters and interactions here, deserving of more than a single scene, but only one scenario is revisited; otherwise, the play hurtles down the tunnel to the next scene. It would be good to see some of the early characters returning later in the play, so we could see how their relationship has developed.
“I think you’re overthinking things massively, and talking in metaphors for no reason” says one of the characters – a comment which could be turned on the play itself. There’s certainly some deft writing here by Jenna Kamal, although it could have done with a little more humour and a little less earnestness. The strong cast are convincing in their multiple performances, but the disjointed structure makes for an evening of independent playlets that struggle to make a fluid whole. Interrupting the flow with a lengthy quote from Carl Sagan is a bizarre anomaly, and the interlaced monologues that break the fourth wall are out of character, feeling more like padding than part of a considered structure.
Author: Jenna Kamal
Director: Alice Wordsworth & Erin Blackmore
Producer: Rumble Theatre
Booking Until: 7 July 2018
Box Office: 020 7835 2301
Booking Link: https://www.thedraytonarmstheatre.co.uk/sardines