I wept, miserably, when the vet announced that malfunctioning hindlegs would mean the end of Jeffrey. Geriatric for a hamster, Jeffrey had spent two and a half years working his way into our affections, winning over even the resident rodent-sceptic. So I hardly needed persuading about the bewitching power of hamsters, but if I had, then this charming play from Talkers & Doers would have done the job.
Hannah is chaotic and impulsive. Short of thoughtful ideas, and happy to stick two fingers up to conventional gifting, she buys a hamster as a birthday present for her friend Francine. This is the final straw for her (not unreasonably) uptight girlfriend, Emma, and not a huge hit with the neurotic, control-freaky birthday girl. Still, the hamster ends up having a therapeutic effect on all three women and the men in their lives.
Writer, Rosalie Roger-Lacan, has created a warm and funny play whose characters are much more loveable than they sound. Wearing costumes that reinforce their personality – Hannah’s boho jacket, Francine’s array of prim tank tops, Emma’s utilitarian shirt and jeans, Ernie’s anxious anorak – they are not finely drawn, but they have enough about them to make us root for them, even as they behave in comedically awful and ridiculous ways.
Although it sometimes strays into slapstick, the humour is mostly about human weirdness and irrationality; women arrange themselves artfully, in preparation for the male gaze; men carry emergency teacakes and, perhaps most relatable, characters go to great lengths to avoid expressing what they actually need or feel. Molly Grogan, as Francine, has a particularly amusing gift for thinking with her face; inviting the audience to complicity we see her recognise, and then give into, her own capriciousness, with just the widening of an eye, or a sideways glance. The farewell poster for Frank also deserves special mention.
Occasionally the direction becomes a bit frenetic. Characters move around each other and around the room during conversations, which often feels like movement for the sake of movement. The writing is funny enough, the actors skilled enough, that they don’t need the energy of farce to keep us laughing.
Design, by Ali Hagan, is thoughtful. The set carefully evokes a twenty-something woman’s small flat, with a little kitchen, a coat rack, a bookcase and sentimental ornaments around the place. The neat table at the front of the stage is the hub for debate, decisions, girly chats and the marking of every significant event.
On a scale of humour I would place Hamsters at ‘consistent chuckling, with a happy glow on departure’. In real life they’d probably drive you mad, but for 80 minutes this oddball cast of characters, plus, of course Peanut the hamster, are lively and entertaining company.
p.s. Thanks to the very kind usher who gave up her seat for us. We hope she got to see the show!
Written by: Rosalie Roger-Lacan
Directed by: Amber Charlie Conroy and Rosalie Roger-Lacan
Produced by: Cecelia Quant
Hamsters has completed its current run at Lion and Unicorn Theatre.