As soon as I walked in to the theatre space of the Hen and Chickens and saw cardboard boxes piled up on the stage with props such as a bottle of Strongbow lying around, I knew that the play was going to transport me right back to my student days. For an hour, I was no longer a mid twenty something with a full time job and responsibility, I regressed back in to the mindset of a 21 year old with nothing to do apart from sleep, eat and party.
The story is set around a group of three housemates who are sharing their last night together before leaving the university “bubble” and venturing out in to the real world. In the midst of the typical university banter, it is clear that none of them are ready to face the challenges that this will bring and we are introduced to how vulnerable the characters really are even though they appear to be full of confidence in the bubble world.
I Have Never explores some very deep and raw issues that most students will be able to relate to in some way or another and explores the dark side of university life as well as the hilarity. This is probably seen most prominently in the character of Bilbo who is the housemate that is a little bit strange but who everybody loves. His real name is Bill but he was given the name Bilbo by his housemates as he looks like a hobbit (cue many jokes relating to Lord of the Rings). He constantly states how lonely he is since breaking up with his girlfriend back in the first year and finds solace in his OCD of cleaning and grouping objects in to threes. This obsession with threes seems to symbolise his three years spent at university, the trilogy of the Lord of the Rings series, the love triangle between him and his housemates and most importantly, foreshadows the revelation towards the end of the play as to why his girlfriend broke up with him back in the first year.
The object of Bilbo’s affections now is his housemate Izzy who is from a rich background but dresses in clothes from River Island and wears a nose piercing to try and fit in with the “normal” students. One of the main themes of the play is the subject of class and Izzy transcends through the classes as she is able to relate to all. Her boyfriend Miles is from an upper class family in Bristol, her housemate Rufus is from a lower class background in Slough and both vie for her affections along with Bilbo.
This leads to some hilarious scenes between Miles and Rufus as they throw stereotypes at one another about the backgrounds that each is from with Rufus saying how upsetting it must be for Miles that he went to a private school and still got the same A Level results and ended up at the same university as him.
When back from their final night out at “Spoons”, they decide to continue the drinking and play the infamous drinking game “I have never.” Secrets from the past three years are revealed and have devastating consequences for all involved. Leila, the girl who Rufus has brought home in one last ditch attempt to make Izzy jealous summaries this perfectly simply by saying, “The truth comes out when you’re drunk.”
Hugh Roberts’ script perfectly portrays the ups and downs of student life and bought both tears of laughter and sadness as I was transported back to my own experiences of university life. The staging of the play in a pub is also a genius idea as the setting even relates to the student lifestyle.
Loneliness, meeting people of other classes and love are all things that students experience, sometimes for the first time, while at university and are all overriding themes in the play. (Although maybe not to the extreme that these students do!) Bilbo says towards the beginning of the play that going to university prolongs you from starting life and the play ends with us wondering if everybody will leave the bubble alive.
Brilliantly acted out, this is a must see for anybody who wants to relive their time at university and see a comedy with a dark edge.
Review by Francesca Shinn
Over 18’s only, limited access for people with disabilities, no admittance for latecomers.
Hen & Chickens Theatre
109 St Paul’s Road
London N1 2NA