Whisper it, but I enthusiastically approve of short plays. We are all busy people, right? Easily distracted? Clapham’s Omnibus and Conflicted Theatre have made absolutely the right choice with We Were Having A Perfectly Nice Time’s brisk 25-minute duration. Two performances each Friday night certainly makes economic sense for them, and at a very reasonable £6 a ticket, does the same for audiences making a tentative return.
And what a 25-minutes it proves to be. It is described as darkly comic in its marketing, but I have a few more adjectives. I would add vicious, nihilistic, cold-hearted, truculent, crude, unrelenting and merciless for starters. Fortunately laugh-out-loud funny, bold, fascinating, whip-smart and totally convincing fit too. We Were Having A Perfectly Nice Time’s is a remarkable piece of writing. It is, in form, a simple everyday conversation between young flatmates. Flatmates that, like Beckett’s tramps, arrive as fully realised archetypes. Swap the can and bottle of booze left discretely to the side for the bare tree and bowler hats. Rest assured you know people like this – over-earnest and over-confident while feeling a little lost. Who am I kidding? You are someone like this. We all are. That is very much the point.
Writer Pedro Leandro uses the flatmate chat form to fire painfully true barbs into the belly of life, friendship, sex and, most of all, love. His bare brutalist style is a lesson to other writers about cutting the fat. The lack of poetic flourish leaves Leando free to set out argument versus counterargument and create looping hypotheses before skilfully dashing them on the rocks. It is a dissection of our foibles worthy of the autopsy table. The pen as a scalpel.
Any review is forced to focus on the writing because it is so strong, but also because the rest of the production is minimalist to its core. A note in the programme, from director Evan Lordan, points out this choice had nothing to do with social distancing and everything to do with Conflicted Theatre’s vision for the piece. This is abundantly clear. Theatre’s excesses are stripped back. There is no lighting. The fourth wall is shattered very early on. Fortunately, no illusion is required to enjoy the text and the skilful, committed performances it prompts. Sitting beside each other facing front throughout, performers Stephanie Booth and Hannah Livingstone are immense. Booth brings endearing petulance to her character’s brand of neediness, whilst Livingstone’s deadpan responses and dour outlook are the source of a lot of the laughs. Combined, they create an incredibly satisfying double act.
As an evening, it helps COVID-19 regulations have not dampened the welcome you get at The Omnibus Theatre and its increasingly popular bar. Everything came together to make for a fantastic welcome back for audiences. It deserves every success.
Playing every Friday and Saturday at 7.30 and 9.00 until 24 October
Written by: Pedro Leandro
Directed by: Evan Lordan
Produced by: Grace Dickson