An intriguing new comedy of embarrassment by a fresh voice, this work in progress made its debut as part of the Clapham Fringe.
The spoiled Hannah (Charlotte Hunt) and gentle Mark (Glyn Manfo) are working together on the reception desk of an NHS office building. They bicker as they answer incoming calls, and we learn that they are in the process of finishing a relationship.
The dialogue is observational; the characters are convincing and the mundane situations the find themselves in are all too familiar. The piece is subtly underplayed, a nuanced performance from the principals entirely in keeping with the intimate venue.
Rachel Hilton takes on a variety of absurdist parts (a lost patient, a waitress, a cinema-goer) to give context to the slowly unfolding relationship between the protagonists. The device is only partially effective; Hilton is directed so as to overplay many of her roles. She should be allowed to relax and let the writing do the work.
It becomes clear that both ex-lovers still harbour feelings for each other and are reluctant to break up; the action moving to a cinema and a local restaurant as Hannah attempts to taunt Mark; he remains unresponsive in the face of her escalating provocations. There is lovely frustrated chemistry between the pair.
Initially, our sympathy is with Mark, ever patient, as he struggles with the demanding and neurotic Hannah, wry and relaxed in the face of her ceaseless attention seeking. As the play develops his lack of response becomes almost passive-aggressive, it becomes clear that he is emotionally stunted; he is unwilling to see the relationship finish but simultaneously unable to make any emotional commitment. We start to see the desperation and vulnerability in Hannah swim into focus, a beautiful performance by Hunt The promising work us however in serious need of further development. A minimalist setting and random use of props was annoying and seemed non-ironically amateurish. Some of the physical humour jarred, and some attempted sight gags fell flat, only to be expected of course in the first showing of a new work.
But the major flaw is that the play was incomplete. The characters were strong and the situation interesting, but the narrative was not allowed to develop or resolve. This felt like the first third of a really lovely play. Mark, was never permitted to show emotion, despite the best efforts of an increasingly shrill and frantic Hannah.
An interesting new work and impressive debut, a play this reviewer would welcome seeing again in a year’s time. The play had its performances on 22nd and 23rd as part of the exciting and innovative Clapham Fringe which runs until the 16th November 2016.
Review by Laura Thomas
R(ex)ception by Francesca Mepham
Bread and Roses Theatre, Clapham
22nd October 2016
Directed by Adam Morley
Produced as part of the Clapham Fringe Festival