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Sniff at the Jack Studio Theatre

I can’t say I’ve ever had a pub toilet experience anything like what the characters in Sniff go through – to the best of my knowledge, they’ve all been a case of going in, doing what must be done, wash hands, and leave. It isn’t, as it happens, the first play I’ve seen set in the loo (one was called Flushed, and another was called Enclosed Spaces). There are, mercifully, some flashback scenes too, which, aside from pulling focus away from the toilets, provides some useful backstory. Liam (Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson) and Alex (Felix Grainger) are very different people – I suppose having two very similar characters that agreed on most things wouldn’t necessarily make great theatre.

Sniff at the Jack Studio Theatre
Sniff at the Jack Studio Theatre.

There are several layers in the narrative that take time to unpeel, and while the play retains an acquired sense of humour to the end, slowly but surely Liam’s ‘real’ agenda in engaging Alex in conversation becomes clear. Liam, a local lad in an undisclosed place with historic city status because it has a cathedral, is not in a good place. Alex, meanwhile, is smartly dressed, having chosen a pub – wait for it – to propose to his girlfriend Bella. Interestingly, both appear to have acquired jobs through family connections, proving that whatever one’s background, it really isn’t so much what you know, but who you know.

Ultimately, there are no real winners in this somewhat convoluted but consistently amusing narrative. While the show’s title might lead one to believe that drug-taking is the primary issue to be tackled in the play, instead it strikes a serious note on the subject of the gambling industry and how advertising and marketing are used to manipulate the public and, more specifically, impressionable young men like Liam. Alex, who has built a career in advertising and branding, starts talking about the ruthlessness of his trade, and how his company “didn’t care” about the moral and ethical implications of their exploitative activities.

At least partly because of its setting, the play doesn’t come up with any prescribed solutions to the identified problems, choosing instead to return to its comedic nature, and a mischievous act of revenge ensues. Both characters are, to an extent, stereotyped – though Alex was, for me, significantly more so, a middle-class man running the rat race. On the surface, he may be living a good life, but deep down all is not as well as it seems. Dopamine is periodically mentioned, but how it impacts human behaviour comes across as something not fully explored. The taking of drugs in the play has a far more visible impact, for instance.

The play feels overly familiar at times, inasmuch as this can’t possibly be the first time a story on stage has been told about a younger person who has fallen on hard times, living in a region where employment opportunities are scarce, but for various reasons can’t just leave home and find work somewhere else. But the lack of sentimentality is refreshing. The storyline is broad, and in covering as many topics as it does, it reflects, for good or for ill, the frenetic energy that apparently comes with taking certain recreational drugs. Covering more ground in one act than some plays do in two acts is quite impressive, and despite its speedy pace, it’s easy to follow. Unpredictable and curious, the script manages to make the likes of geraniums and toilet paper engaging topics of conversation, all the while building up to a fascinating and satisfying conclusion.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Two strangers meet in a pub toilet in a small town that no one cares about. Liam, struggling with addiction and money troubles, has never left the claustrophobic town that birthed him. He’s lost everything, if he ever had it. Alex, cloaked in a Hugo Boss suit and the pride of a job in Canary Wharf, comes down to visit this quaint place with his girlfriend. It seems like he has everything. However, as the door locks, and time clocks, a dark connection begins to unearth itself.

This play was selected as an outstanding script and performed at Theatre503 in July of 2022 and received a great deal of praise. Its next home is the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley.

Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson – Liam
Felix Grainger – Alex

Directed by Ben Purkis
Produced by Alexandra Craveiro


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