The Hope Theatre
I developed an aversion to cold Heinz products when young. I blame my mum. She hated warm beans and spaghetti variants but when heating them up for our dinner she’d eat them cold from the tin. Ever since I’ve had an irrational problem with them. Imagine my concern then that the hoops from Hoops and Hookups were spaghetti ones. I’ll be honest, that alone almost meant a one-star review. Seriously, there should be a trigger warning – ‘contains scenes some may find sickening’. But somehow I retain my professionalism.
Chantal and Georgia (Steph McNeil and Helin Ekin) are chalk and cheese. That’s made abundantly clear immediately. Reckless 16-year-old Chantal is in her bedroom kicking clothes around, deciding what to wear, whilst older cousin Georgia is in her flat cleaning up every little speck of dust. The contrast becomes more apparent when they talk. Chantal is uncouth, in accent as well as language, Georgia more refined.
Yet their closeness shines through as Chantal turns to Georgia for help in preparing for a date. One with a girl, much to Georgia’s curiosity. And even though Georgia has reservations about Chantal’s date and subsequent behaviour; countless lies about her age and where she has been for the past week, she still lovingly supports her.
If anything, early on McNeil overplays Chantal. She is common beyond belief, accent so thick it risks becoming a parody. She errs just on the right side to avoid annoyance, but if the show is to develop, a little refinement of that delivery could possibly help?
Small complaint aside, there is no denying they make a glorious duo. Yes, their characters are poles apart, yet there feels a genuine bond, meaning you never question it. Undoubtably one of the strengths here is the wonderful interplay and what feels a natural friendship.
What at first appears a coming-of-age story and of exploring sexuality is suddenly flipped on its head as Georgia begins to question Chantal’s erratic behaviour. Are her actions simply those of someone reckless and without remorse or is there a deeper issue at play? Things take an unexpected turn, and much to its credit, the action moves away from the more obvious and perhaps safer subject matters.
The writing of the characters is another real strength. McNeil’s stand-up comedy experience shines through with wonderful one-liners that have the audience loudly belly laughing. A line about selling her kitty on Ebay is so well received it even leaves the pair struggling not to completely corpse: there is a beautiful moment as the pair pause, trying not to laugh at each other. It simply adds to their charm. OK, the plot does need some attention – there is a slight imbalance between the opening scenes that are full of laughs and the later moments, as it contemplates issues of mental health, but again, the pair deliver it so well you can forgive this as simply an early stage of development.
Hoops and Hookups is a strong debut that leaves you yearning for more. In Chantal and Georgia a beautiful depth has already been created. They leave you wanting to know more about their futures and a deep hope that both deal with their own personal demons. It’s already a play more than worth a visit but you get the feeling that it will only get better with time and development. I’d certainly love to catch up with their lives in a year or two. I just hope by then their love of spaghetti hoops has passed.
Written and produced by: Steph McNeil and Helin Ekin
Directed by: Harris Albar
Hoops and Hookups next plays as part of Camden Fringe at The Hope Theatre 22 – 24 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.
The show also plays The Water Rats 15 – 17 AUgust, further information here.