Hen and Chickens Theatre
Reviewed – 11th August 2019
“J B Pichelski’s script does have interesting concepts buried somewhere”
The Camden Fringe can often be a hotbed for exciting, thoughtful, creative new work that screams out for a larger platform or further development. Scenic Reality unfortunately does not fit into this category. Despite some interesting ideas fuelling the play, the execution results in a hugely disappointing experience.
Scenic Reality centres around four friends reuniting under unfortunate circumstances – Janet (Amy Woods), Lucy (Francesca Mallett), and George (Brodie Husband) all convene at Damien’s (Patricia Gibbons) flat, in response to a letter Damien had sent. There’s a tension amongst the four as it transpires that they haven’t seen each other since before they all went separate ways after college, and that a film that Damien made when they were last together caused a severe falling out. The events surrounding this are revealed through a plethora of flashbacks that intersperse this reunion – and when I say plethora, I mean it. There are approximately ten jumps back in time throughout the play, which means twenty scene changes as it travels back to present day. That’s three minutes between each scene change on average, which is blisteringly quick for any piece of theatre, and subsequently creates a stilted, juddering pace with no momentum. No scene is given any time to breathe or develop organically, instead vaguely alluding to something that’s happened or going to happen and then jumping in time again before allowing any conflict or theme to really be explored.
That’s a shame, because J B Pichelski’s script does have interesting concepts buried somewhere – the role of art in a continually gruelling and dissatisfying system, adapting to disappointment and post-university life, and the way artists are expected to exploit their trauma for the sake of their craft are ideas that all briefly pop up, but the breakneck rush through time instead means that none of these are allowed to establish themselves as themes, instead just making a fleeting appearance and then being absent for the rest of the play. The hollowness of the script is exacerbated further by dialogue that operates only on the surface level, which facilitates flat and low-stakes direction from Samantha Wright.
The performances, too, feel unengaged with the story. Woods is notably authentic, and Mallett and Husband provide solid enough work, but Gibbons just seems bored, as every line she delivers feels disinterested and follows the exact same inflection. This greatly dampens the energy of the piece, resulting in a protagonist that the audience simply cannot invest in.
Scenic Reality clearly has good intentions – its representation of a non-binary character, for instance, is mature and exemplary. It makes it all the more of a letdown that the rest of the play feels comparatively immature and undercooked.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by J B Pichelski
Hen and Chickens Theatre as part of Camden Fringe 2019
Previously reviewed at this venue: