Small Hours

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2016

reviews

Dominic Leonard

at 22:50 on 10th Aug 2016

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The main advantage of studio spaces for philosophical theatre is the liminal, metaphorical space the black curtains and minimal staging can create. This is used to great advantage by writer and director Anna Jeary, creating a play that is ambitiously thoughtful whilst wearing the guise of an unassuming comedic drama.

The presiding feeling I have watching Small Hours is a desire to be friends with the characters. This is the play’s greatest strength – friendship is difficult to convey, but Jasmine Price and Talor Hanson manage to create this closeness with ease. Hanson is the more playful of the two, serving as a foil to the more contemplative Price (complete with name-drops of Sartre and Derrida, no less), and her liveliness and charming obscenity lights up the play even in its more reflective moments.

The two friends frankly discuss sexual exploits (including what exactly a ‘friendly penis’ looks like), but it is a light-heartedness which belies the seriousness of the driving themes of the play: motherhood, remembrance, and loneliness. Bathos is palpable; in a discussion of how one can become immortal through being remembered, one character remarks that they hope to be remembered like ‘leaving a skidmark on the world’.

The pacing is well orchestrated by Jeary, such that the change of tone is smooth and assured. There are no bombshells, but instead an uncomfortable undercurrent that slowly widens, as Price tries desperately to remember events, replaying them in her mind and getting increasingly frustrated as she is unable to line them up properly. The sensation one gets is that of looking through the cracks of a humble façade into something darker, into the question the play quietly mulls on: how do you remember someone?

Ultimately, the question is too big for such a piece to properly encompass, and the play at moments of climax has a tendency to buckle under the weight of its conceit. The use of lighting (particularly without any sound) to represent time changes is out of place and distracting, making it harder to get to grips with how exactly the play deals with time. The crux of the play is only directly dealt with in the final ten minutes, which doesn’t feel like enough time to properly expound on the issue.

Nonetheless, the comic and clever writing well-performed by the delightful leads adds up to a very enjoyable 40 minutes that, like many a drunken conversation in the small hours of morning, lulls you in with frivolity before startling you with something more profound than you expected.

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Sebastian Ng

at 09:21 on 11th Aug 2016

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Two armchairs, one red and the other green, occupied by two women who have a conversation for 45 minutes. It sounds like it might be a snoozefest, but it’s not, because the dialogue – despite being gossipy, aimlessly stream-of-consciousness and riddled with conversational cul-de-sacs – somehow manages to hold our attention ... up to a point.

Credit goes to writer-director Anna Jeary, whose dialogue rambles along a string of subjects like a Brownian particle. It is sprinkled with naughty humour, and moves along just sprightly enough to hold our attention for fifteen minutes or so. The fact that it manages to sustain interest for this long is noteworthy, and part of that is due to the easy chemistry that actresses Talor Hanson and Jasmine Price have with each other.

The objective to the audience's eavesdropping does finally get dropped in, a revelation that works because it is slipped into the conversation in a lightly measured way. The twist is not initially spelled out, but in an instant it changes our perspective on the conversation that has gone before. Having said that, the revelation itself is neither profound nor creative, and by then the play has answered most of its own questions. One waits for a cathartic moment, either an intense falling out or a sense of closure between the two women; we do get one, but it is rather inconclusive. The decision to maintain the static staging, even at the final section of the play, might have been a mistake.

The issue with the script is that it still feels like it was written on the fly. There are pop culture references, for example, that feel like they were included because they were the first thing that fleeted into the writer's mind. They sometimes serve as inside references for the two characters, to demonstrate their familiarity with each other, but frequently it results in the audience observing their friendship from without, rather than sharing in their emotional trajectory.

Overall it is a pleasant enough play, but the monotonous emotional arc, and feeling of remoteness from the women's relationship, makes the play feel somewhat inconsequential.

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