Scarlett by Colette Kane, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 4 March 2017

I’m almost boring myself by going on about how good the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs is, so goodness knows what effect such comments are having on long-suffering Ogblog readers. But by gosh the quality of productions and performances is high.

The one paragraph description of Scarlett – a play about a woman who escapes to try and start afresh in the Welsh countryside – might not have caught our eye as being different enough, but we set that “synopsis bar” a little lower for the Hampstead Downstairs, as we so consistently enjoy our evenings there.

Yet again, we are so glad we chose to book this one.

Interestingly (and unusually) it is pretty much an all woman production – i.e. the writer, director, designer and all five performers are women.

Here’s a link to the excellent Hampstead resource on this production for all the details.

We had seen a Colette Kane play at the Hampstead Downstairs before; “I Know How I Feel About Eve” about four years ago – that will be Ogblogged in the fullness of time – for now here is a link to an introductory piece/mini-interview with Colette Kane at that time.

In both Colette Kane plays we have seen so far, the writing is delightful and thought provoking. Perhaps she has yet entirely to find her own voice. She is clearly a playwright steeped in modern theatre who knows how to cherry-pick style and tone without quite making her pieces unmistakably her own.

Still, Scarlett is a really superb 75-80 minutes of drama. All five performers are excellent, especially Kate Ashfield as the eponymous lead. All five surprise us a little at some point in the drama, but without interrupting a natural-seeming flow to the simple but compelling story.

Scarlett is very well directed too, by Mel Hillyard. We have seen her work before, quite recently; The Brink at the Orange Tree last April. We were very impressed then too. A young director to watch, methinks.

We started the evening by bumping into John and Linda – a couple we know simply because we quite regularly see them at theatres and who coincidentally (it transpires) live just across the road from the Notting Hill Gate flat. They were seeing Sex With Strangers upstairs – a production that didn’t appeal to us for booking. Janie and I rounded off our evening with some Iranian food from Mohsen.

At the time of writing, Scarlett still has three weeks to run. Janie and I would both recommend it thoroughly to people who enjoy top notch productions of well-crafted, short plays in small theatres.

Experience by Dave Florez, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 28 January 2017

Janie and I love the Hampstead Downstairs and this was yet another little gem down there.

Not for the fainthearted, this play.

It is about sexual surrogacy, which is one part of a three-way therapy treatment for people who have issues with sex and/or intimacy. The other two parts are client and therapist.

It should come as no surprise that the play is a three-hander.

But this play is about a somewhat controversial, experimental use of surrogate partner therapy with offenders.

Is the result a compelling 80 minutes of drama? You bet.

Superb cast, well directed.

Here’s a link to the Hampstead resource on the play.

If you are able, go see for yourselves, don’t take our word for it.

Cracking, it was.

Light supper of shawarmas afterwards; an inexpensive night out, but still a cracker.

 

Alligators by Andrew Keatley, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 16 July 2016

By gosh this is one powerful play, with this production proving once again that the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs is one of the hottest locations in London at the moment for showcasing modern plays and emerging talent.

This one all-but caused a domestic between me and Janie. Yes, we both agreed what a good play it was. But our take diverged on the moral dilemmas therein and the extent to which the protagonist was to some extent the architect of his own misfortune as well as the subject of great sympathy.

The plot is simple enough; the protagonist, Daniel (played extremely well by Alec Newman) is a teacher, falsely accused of sex offences by a delusional former pupil, years after the alleged offences.

The complexity comes from Daniel’s less-than-exemplary interactions with the troubled schoolgirl at the time, his with-holding of some of the relevant contextual information from the police when first questioned and his troubling interest in internet porn of the kind that bears a creepy resemblance to the alleged offences.

Janie and I debated our divergent takes on this play to some extent during the interval and more vociferously on the way home in the comfort of our own vehicle. Frankly, I think we were both somewhat in shock.

While Janie and I were personally reconciled by the time we got home and started tucking in to our shawarma supper, we only realised the next morning when we rose to prepare for a day at Lord’s, that we had rapidly polished off a tasty bottle of Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz in double-quick time, which left us both a little sore-headed until the fresh air of Lord’s started to weave its magic on our fevered brows.

As well as Alec Newman, Susan Stanley as Daniel’s unquestionably sympathy-deserving wife, Sally, was an absolute standout in a generally very good cast and production. The full works Hampstead production details can be found on the theatre’s archive – here.

We saw the last night of the run at the Hampstead, but this production really deserves a tour and/or transfer so here’s hoping it will return/run elsewhere.

Recommendations: yes, do see this play if you possibly can. No, don’t fall out over it; the dilemmas are meant to leave you feeling confused, cognitively dissonant and angry. No, don’t knock back a whole bottle of strong wine between two of you afterwards in a vain attempt to make your whirling brain feel better; doesn’t work.

 

Firebird by Phil Davies, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 2 October 2015

This was a very harrowing short piece, brilliantly done. Deservedly, this one got a transfer to Trafalgar Studios, so there is a good stub to be found with the production details, some interviews etc. We saw the original version at the Hampstead Downstairs, but it looks as though it was a straight transfer, same cast, same production team.

The play is basically about a young girl in Rochdale who is befriended and groomed by an older, Asian man with debts and bad friends. The Children’s Society collaborated on the work, by all accounts.

We saw it on a Friday evening after a poor early evening meal at Harry Morgans. We were talking about it all weekend; it raised such startling issues and was so well acted.

There were also reviews post transfer:

Many more reviews can be found if you google for them using Trafalgar rather than Hampstead.

Deposit by Matt Hartley, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 27 March 2015

This was a good play, very well acted and produced. Another feather in the cap of the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.

Housing crisis again, but this time two couples decide to live on top of one another for a short while to save enough for the deposits that will progress both couples to the dream of their own home.

There were some plausibility issues with the economics of this scenario, especially in London. “Do the math” as our US cousins might put it.

Still, it was good thought-provoking stuff.

Janie liked it less than I did, but she was in the process of coming down with something, to such an extent that we ended up having to cancel our dinner with Gary and Margaret the next day – a very rare level of poorliness for Janie.

Excellent resource about this play/production on the Hampstead website – click here.

No formal reviews but lots of comments, mostly very positive, on the site.

Preceded by nosh at Harry Morgan, although I seem to recall Janie eating little because she was already feeling less than special in herself.