Pros: Genuine chemistry on show between the onstage couples and some funny reactions.
Cons: Prosaic text delivered at a slow pace.
Reviewing anywhere that isn’t local during the tube strike isn’t fun. When the show starts at 7, it’s even less so. Having escaped Highbury & Islington after the Monday night Arsenal game when the strike first began, I wasn’t looking forward to returning. I arrived at the theatre breathless with negative five minutes to spare; luckily the house hadn’t opened yet. I was greeted with a warm smile, a programme and a reassurance that everything was going to be all right.
When I got to the Hen & Chickens, it became clear why the show started at 7, like a good fringe theatre, they were squeezing in two shows a night. The show started. The first scene of which is set on a tube – great.
Still, the tube on stage, whilst a reminder of my travel woes, isn’t a tube. Not really. It’s a metaphor for London’s bustling population bumping against one another but never connecting. I know that because that’s what tubes in theatre always mean. But in case I hadn’t heard the tired stereotype that London is an unfriendly and lonely place, the message was reiterated in awkward ‘lines to camera’ as the actors squeezed past each other to intimate a packed tube. When you’ve just come from an overcrowded Victoria Line train during the tube strike, the whole effect is irksome.
The play didn’t get a lot better than its opening scene, at least not immediately, as the actors delivered a fairly dull script at a plodding pace. However as the piece went on, it became clear that the actors were a step ahead of the text, providing sharp reactions and witty ad-libs where needed. So although the play was populated with rambling speeches that jarred with its naturalistic feel, the actors did their level best to make it all seem natural. I have to commend their determination to force their way through rom-com awkwardness with gusto.
As the play rattled through various blind-dating couples, the message became clear: dating sucks, dating in London is worse, and don’t even bother if you’ve got some kind of disability or disease. It seems disheartening, especially for a single girl in the city like myself, but there was one happy ending to cheer us up. Sadly, it was West End musical level of cheese, without the catchy tunes (or crappy rom-com without the Hollywood heartthrob, whichever you prefer).
I have to applaud the commitment this (unnecessarily large) cast gave this text. Jesse Rutherford’s charming but vulnerable Alex, and Tom Scurr’s ‘out-of-his-depth’ Adam are worth a mention here. The strength of the performances suggests that the directors also deserve some plaudits but it was probably a case of too many cooks for the three writers. As it is, the experience is a Sex in the City-esque affair, with better beer, but less fabulous outfits.
Directors: Gill King & Kate McGregor
Writers: Nathan Brooker, Laurence Peacock & Milly Thomas
Producer: Bridge Arts
Box Office: 020 7354 8246
Booking Link: www.henandchickens.com
Booking Until: 3rd May