Stench - Theatre Review

Another weekday evening in a shared flat, three young women who’ve known each other since college and know each other inside out. They squabble, take each other for granted but do ultimately care about one another.

The evening settles into what we suspect is a fairly regular ‘open a bottle and watch a DVD’ routine. However, the cracks really start to appear when Kate’s estranged brother Nick turns up, invites his friend Zachary around, and appears to be settling in to stay.

Writers Lily Driver and Felicity Huxley-Miners (who also play Beck and Kate) have packed a lot into 70 minutes as the slightly dull plans for the evening disintegrate and long standing tensions emerge. There is a nice sense of alliances forming and being broken within the flat sharing trio which has a very realistic and authentic feel to it. Flat sharing can be very like living with siblings.

On the whole they have managed the tricky balance between giving us enough to understand the situation and setting without too much exposition. However, there is probably still scope to tighten the script as the three girls all know each other so well that there would probably be much more shorthand at work. And it doesn’t matter if we don’t get it all, most of us have been there, lived that, and will fill in the gaps.

At the performance I saw, in effect a showcase, there was no stage, no lighting and minimal sound effects (all operated by the cast). The company coped remarkably well in this inhospitable setting. They created a convincing sitting room in a flat and drew us into it, making good use of the two doors in the room as part of the flat. They also coped well with the echoey nature of the space although the hard floors meant that occasional lines were lost as one or other character made an angry exit wearing heeled boots.

All five actors provide strong, believable performances, especially worthy of note in such a challenging setting. The relationship and spark between Kate ( Felicity Huxley-Miners) and Beck (Lily Driver) is particularly strong. They are all vulnerable despite their outward appearances with Marina Tapakoudes as the volatile Tilly reminding us vividly of those painful moments of youth and Andrew Armitage creating a Nick I could cheerfully have slaughtered! Zachary (Adam Walker-Kavanagh) provides a nicely pitched counterpoint to the high energy arguing of the others. The moment where he and Kate first see each other is a lovely moment of stillness that adds to the depth of the piece.

Nick’s goading of Kate and her fury with her flatmates at accepting her brother with such ease rather than supporting her in insisting that he leaves, finds somewhere else to stay, suggests a far darker backstory than the one we eventually hear which, although it allowed the final reconciliation, fell a little short of my expectations.

Driver and Huxley-Miners also directed the piece and have created a story that held us throughout; however, I feel it would benefit from an external director. There are some things that are difficult to see from within and an external person will also see the text in a different way which can only enrich the story and performance.

Overall, a strong piece of new writing from a young company to watch.

(c) Kate Saffin 2016

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