Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Small Hours at the Hampstead Theatre

 My marathon week of theatre-going started tonight with a one-woman play at Hampstead Theatre. This play, starring Sandy McDade and written by Lucy Kirkwood and Ed Hime,  has been selling out since it opened on12th January with a 'World Premiere'. The run was extended by two weeks to allow more people to see it.

All I knew about this play was that the audience would sit around the living room where the action takes place. What I didn't know was that we had to leave everything that we couldn't keep on our laps in the cloakroom (not a problem) and take our shoes off in a downstairs ante-room (a problem if your socks aren't immaculate which mine obviously were...hmm...), or that the audience was so very small in number - there must've only been twenty of us in total sitting around a basement flat living room.

To me the play was uncomfortable both physically (we were sitting on a hard veneer sideboard) and mentally. The subject matter of a young woman trying to cope on her own while her partner is away is so close to my heart that I very nearly left the set. But I remembered the little talk we'd been given just before we were told to remove our shoes about the play being an installation piece, where the audience is present but mustn't partake and most pointedly mustn't leave the set unless absolutely necessary. They even told us that there was a guard member of staff posted outside the door in case we tried to escape leave mid-performance.

Seriously, though, the play and particularly the performance of Lucy Kirkwood as a woman on the very brink of mental and physical breakdown is explosive. But watching her private hell at such close quarters seems wrong somehow. Several times during the hour-long play I found myself turning my face away from her, and I noticed others around the room do the same. So it begs the question, do we go to the theatre - or to any art exhibition or performance - to enjoy ourselves, or do we go to watch suffering? There must be a middle way. Let's hope my next two theatre pieces this week have a little more joy and happiness in them...


Jaana said...

What a touching and at the same time very disturbing play. I am still not sure what I really thought about it. It truly sent shivers down my spine.
I cannot imagine what it must be like for the actress to perform this twice a night.

Anonymous said...


I work front of house at the Hampstead Theatre and I found your review on Twitter, very interesting to read!

Just wanted to say that there isn't someone outside in case you 'tried to leave', and I'm not sure you would've been told that, obviously if you were it's wrong! We've been asked by the director to ask people to stay in their seats throughout if possible to avoid disruption, and there's an usher inside the space to help anyone who needs it, but absolutely no guard on the door! Obviously if you did want or need to leave, you were completely free to do so.

Just thought that should be made clear!

Really interesting blog though.


Unknown said...


How nice to hear from you and glad you like my blog.

Sometimes I use a bit of humour in my theatre reviews; in now way is it intended to offend. Many apologies if you think I did.


Anonymous said...

Not offended at all, just wanted to make sure others reading this who might be seeing the show wouldn't worry about being trapped!

I totally agree it's all a bit strange though, not your usual theatre-going experience...


ML Awanohara said...

I read an article last summer by New York Times theatre critic Ben Brantley describing the attempt by some London theatres (East End, fringe) to "redefine what it means to be part of the audience in the 21st century."

He described following a naked countertenor around in the operatic version of The Duchess of Malfi and being wheeled thru an MRI scanner in a gurney in You Me Bum Bum Train.

I must admit I was curious about this new phenomenon known as theatre installation, which I don't think has caught on yet in NYC.

But after reading your account of Small Hours, I'm not so sure. Would you pay good money again to sit on a sideboard feeling caged in and wishing the actress would get out of your face?

Or am I just being stodgy?!