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Frenemies: A show about those people you love to hate

FrenemiesI’ve seen up to 14 short plays as part of one show in the past, but I’ve never come across anything as seamless and intertwined as these six. Despite the different writers of the component short plays of Frenemies, the tempo is at full tilt throughout. I would not have known otherwise that these were actually six short plays presented as a single piece of theatre, and may have been inclined to interpret this production as one play by the same playwright. The scene changes are very quick, so much so that it felt as if the show was waiting for the audience applause to die down at the end of each of the short plays before proceeding to the next one.

The wraparound play, Wanna Hear A Joke? by Daniel Saunders, bookends the show, though far more of it comes at the end relative to the amount of content at the start. Red (Chris Warren) is trying to tell a joke from start to finish, only to be continually interrupted by Blue (Juliette Chrisman), who is not interested, mostly because Red’s jokes are either unfunny, incoherent, or both. The fourth wall is breached, to good effect, although the stop-start nature of the piece made it difficult to maintain interest. What should always be remembered with regards to a play of this nature is the overarching theme of ‘people you love to hate’; if there are thoroughly dislikeable characters that cause an audience reaction, the show has achieved its purpose.

Setting aside the unrealistic presumption that strangers would strike up a conversation on the London Underground, Dean Lundquist’s I Can Tell Your Handbag Is Fake is an exploration into keeping up appearances and the wider consequences of wanting to appear wealthier and classier than a person actually is. I’ve seen this sort of subject tackled before in plays, but with image and self-consciousness so prevalent in society, there’s no such thing as too many reminders to stay true to oneself. I don’t know whether I should have done, but I enjoyed the cat fight between Lula (Fiona Jones), Holly (Jessica Rogers) and Mae (Katie Rice). If anything it was well choreographed.

The Kill by Alex Broun was my favourite of the short plays. Machiavellian to an extreme, Simon (Pedro Pinhal) gets his way with Wayne (Richard Staplehurst) through an impressively elaborate set-up. It had me intrigued from start to finish. There’s something distinctly British about this piece, and it was surprising to discover later that the original version was actually distinctly American, with a baseball game forming part of the narrative rather than a cricket match. This laugh-out- loud piece demonstrates how a little ingenuity can go a long way. Superb stuff.

Principles, by Deborah Poznansky, sees two schoolchildren, Benji (Nicholas Dore) and Celia (Fiona Jones) converse in the playground while a meeting goes on, mediated by the (un)imaginatively-titled Principal (Jessica Rogers), between Diane (Katie Rice) and Carol (Juliette Chrisman). It is the children who are engaged in civilised conversation, whilst indoors, grown women are trading personal insults. The issue at stake was most certainly a First World Problem of the highest order, and I found both mothers satisfyingly annoying.

Chris Davis’ Perfect Couple has a borderline tedious plot, but this is more than made up for in the joviality from Hugo (Chris Warren) in what would otherwise be a po-faced and more than slightly awkward social gathering. It transpires that Beatrice (Katie Rice) has an arguably justifiable reason for adopting such an antagonistic manner towards her fiancé Hugo as well as Toby (Pedro Pinhal) and Jenny (Jessica Rogers). I have to say I was rather underwhelmed by the ending, which simply reinforced the concept that consenting adults in a liberal democracy can have relations with whomever they wish. The cast do as good a job as can be done with what they are given, though.

Necessity by Daniel Saunders probably fitted the description of ‘people you love to hate’ best. Stuck in a confined space with Sam (Nicholas Dore), Cook (Richard Staplehurst) gets increasingly frustrated with his companion, especially as Sam won’t ‘shut up’ and has nothing of real significance to say except wonder how long their ordeal will go on for. This play ends before a definitive conclusion is reached, a point marvellously explored in some sort of postscript scene. There’s plenty of laughter at Sam’s antics and simultaneous empathy with Cook at having to put up with someone so (at face value, at least) relentlessly chatty and cheery.

Frenemies has been very well put together into a woven theatrical tapestry. It must have been a risk to attempt to make a success of constructing a show with quite so many pugnacious and exasperating characters, but it has largely paid off here in a sharp and speedy piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Sedos on tour to London and Edinburgh with a comedy about the people you hate
Six short plays from international writers presented over the course of one hour. Each play is comedy driven with strong dramatic elements in some. The plays will share a stylistic theme as well as the general theme of ‘Frenemies’ to create a cohesive show performed by an ensemble of eight actors.

The plays featured in Frenemies are:
I Can Tell Your Handbag is Fake, by Dean Lundquist
Three fashion-conscious friends meet on the underground where one of them, much to chagrin of the others, points out that she can tell that their handbags are fake. A commentary on what fashion means to identity.

Necessity, by Daniel Saunders
Two men are stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean after their ship sinks. Is it worth trying to stay alive if your only companion makes you want to kill yourself?

The Kill, by Alex Broun
If you dream you die, you die right? Well what if someone else dies in your dream? Or what if you dream you kill them? And what if that person is sitting beside you on the couch, watching the TV? A psychological dream-thriller. With tomatoes.

Wanna Hear a Joke?, by Daniel Saunders
Some people can really make a joke come alive. Sometimes that’s not a good thing. A play about those annoying people you put up with because you want to be a good person.

Principles, by Deborah Poznansky
Parent teacher meetings are never fun for anyone. Least of all when it is the adults that are the ones acting like children.

Perfect Couple, by Chris Davis
Beatrice and Hugo are the perfect couple. Nice house, recent promotion, soon to be married. A veritable Barbie and Ken. How are Toby and Jenny ever supposed to keep up?

Frenemies
London: 31 July and 1 August 2016
Edinburgh: 6-13 August 2016
http://sedos.co.uk/

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