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The Mess and One Night Hire
Barons Court Theatre
15th August 2013

★★★★☆

Publicity image for One Night Hire/The Mess

Photography © Alexander Yip

A double-bill of contemporary drama from So It Goes Theatre Company, The Mess and One Night Hire offer their audience two pieces of tightly-written narrative, which blend a distinctly northern sensibility with the trials of young adulthood. The Mess, directed by writer Douglas Baker, follows two flatmates who have been given a deadline to clean the rubbish from their flat or face eviction, whilst One Night Hire (directed by Nick Mouton) tracks a group who decide to gatecrash their friend's university leavers' ball.

The theatre doors open to the scene of the titular Mess, complete with somnolent leads Gemma (Thea Beyleveld) and Kelly (Felicity Walsh), neatly immersing the audience who are forced to creep around the edges of the scene. The amber lighting suggests either sunrise or streetlights, alongside Richard Kerry's background music which takes us straight to the 90s with its vividly pop-punk and Riot Grrl choices.

The Mess begins with a dance sequence performed by Duncan (Matthew Coulton) and choreographed by Depi Gorgogianni, all amongst the litter and debris; the teabag washing line is a particularly neat touch which underscores both the state of the flat, and the level of poverty with which the characters are struggling.

Across both plays, the dialogue truly captures the way in which people actually speak to one another - the Yorkshire accents, in this piece, adding extra heft to the blunt language. Gemma and Kelly are drowning in the chaos of both their lives, estranged from their families and trapped in their circumstances by a combination of pride, lack of money and fear. The supporting cast, particularly Tizzy (Adriana Maestranzi) give strong performances but the audience, as the characters, realise that the two are strongest together.

Men are given something of a rough ride - Duncan is played with patronising smugness and Jon (Neil Duggan) is too weak to actually assist his daughter. Gemma muses on the struggle of her job interview, blaming the failure of her performance on men - "D'you think skirts were created by men to make women easier to rape?" - with chipper invective, while Kelly tries desperately to get her out of the room. Both women are hiding from themselves and each other, concealing truths which are buried in the debris of the room; the litter fight towards the finale transforms something bleak and angry into something joyful and silly.

Flashbacks are neatly brought in and out by darkening the stage, which made me somewhat worry for the cast breaking their necks on the debris - thankfully no mishaps occurred. The same cannot be said within the play, which offers a shocking act of brutality for the audience to digest. Despite this, the piece still manages to offer a hopeful ending, the audience firmly rooting for Gemma and Kelly into the interval.

Publicity image for One Night Hire/The Mess

Photography © Alexander Yip

As with The Mess, One Night Hire also begins with dance, leading into a soliloquy about Ecstasy by Edward (Phil Bishop), surrounded by a gorgeous piece of theatricality which could sound hackneyed on paper, but is perfect for the moment onstage. Again, thoroughly rooted in 90s culture - the soundtrack includes N-Trance, Ebeneezer Goode by The Shamen, and denim-clad pop pixies B*Witched - the play follows a group of young people who are drifting through life but partying hard. Delia (Gemma Wray) is about to attend the final ball from her English Lit course at the University of Leeds, and her friends, none of whom are students, decide to crash the party. This conceit acts as a loose hanger for the plot, but the play is really about friendship, life, sex, love and everything inbetween.

Edward (seems to be the lead as sensitive-yet-shy drifter type; so far, so clichéd, except Edward is also high, looking for a way out, and hiding more than a few secrets. Once again the opening music, trance style, combines with synthetic purple and blue lighting to set the scene in an otherwise sparse set. Edward's friends drift on and off the stage, establishing their characters, and time moves about clearly between situations (with some speedy costume changes). We also witness such changes onstage, performed wonderfully in character by Catesby (Tom Slatter), Macauley (Jack Lowe) and Edward. Catesby veers between glittering charm and a black streak of menace, especially towards Nicole (Rachael Wallis), his beleaguered girlfriend who has grown tired of his drug dealing ways. The final player, Macauley, is the clown of the group and functions as an occasional shield for Edward.

The script shows the same dexterity and realism here, with cheap one-liners and plenty of fruity epithets, to deeply emotional truths. The act of brutality which is revealed, and re-enacted in a thoroughly chilling fashion, is perhaps more shocking than that seen in The Mess, but again, as in that piece, the play is still able to finish hopefully.

There are few complaints to be made beyond forays into heavy-handedness with Delia's character (who is - shock! - both intellectual and amazing in bed) but this is intrinsic to the writing, and nothing to do with Gemma Wray's warm and bright-eyed performance. Admittedly, the line about university being "a zoo for posh people" slightly pulled me from the drama, being unintentionally ironic from the mouths of graduates (despite raising a smirk at the same time). Of course, this play, shown in the middle of London in the middle of an arts festival, is not the kind of thing that will be seen by people like the characters. Well, perhaps except Delia. But the tone never feels genuinely sneering or malicious in either direction.

Overall, this double forms a solid evening of new drama, balanced by a northern edge and surprisingly uplifting endings. Definitely worth a shot, from a dedicated young company and new writer with plenty of interesting things to say.

The Mess and One Night Hire opened on the 15th August and runs until 25th August.

Nearest tube station: West Kensington (District)



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