Directed by Glen Hamilton
The Old Fitz
129 Dowling Street
Season: 5-9 July
A woman leaves a message on her ex-boyfriend's answer machine. She lets him know she isn't coping well since the break up. She might be pregnant. She might kill herself. Or maybe she'll just dye her hair. The following day, it's not her ex that comes to check on her, but her ex's new girlfriend. This is Amy Rosenthal’s play, Henna Night. It takes place in one room, on one night, 45 minutes, real time. Jane Angharad takes the stage as Judith, the message-leaver, and her apartment is invaded by Ros, the new girlfriend, played by Romney Stanton.
Rosenthal’s script is a wonderful character examination in circumstances where the stakes are high for each individual, and yet not particularly uncommon. It is fascinating to watch the minutia of detail in a situation such as this, as the theatre serves as an unrelentingly honest space to bring to light some of our bizarre human reactions. This text highlights the multiplicity of feelings you feel when you break up with someone, grounded in individual truth. It was funny to hear lines that seem relatively cliché, and yet as the character’s honest response it appears some of these phrases have become cliché for good reason. A thousand people might feel the same way about a situation and yet have the sensation of enduring it totally alone, with a unique outlook. With a text of this nature, which can be very revealing of a person, an audience must perceive the words as being truthful. I saw glimpses of this truth, but ultimately felt like what should be a very intimate scene remained performative. I enjoyed watching the shift towards reconciliation between Ros and Judith, watching Judith gradually soften towards Ros, gradually letting her guard down.
Angharad and Stanton quickly establish a frosty relationship on first meeting, and it’s clear that they have some muck to work through. But as the play progressed I couldn't help but keep asking why does Ros stay? Why does Judith allow her to stay and keep insulting her? I needed to feel that there was an honest reason for them to sift through this awkward and painful conflict, other than the fact that the script compels them to stay. To work through naturalistic drama, making a theatrical scene feel real is hard work. Maybe the actors found it a little intimidating. Sometimes the best response to such a challenge in the theatre is simply to breathe - and already the audience feel this natural process reinforcing the character's thoughts and a believable life in the work again.
It seems that the director and the performers have done all the right work with the text - they've found the beat changes, they've found some interesting dynamics and mannerisms of the characters. But ultimately the play didn't absorb me like I wanted it to. I should emphasise that there is strong work in this show, but the feeling isn't quite there yet. There are some very funny jokes presented very well by the actors, and yet I feel like they would land even better if the self consciousness of the performance was taken away. All of this reinforces that live performance is hard, and theatrical chemistry can seem abstruse and enigmatic. And yet, when we keep working at it, critiquing, improving, we can create something magical.