Review: N89, Matchstick Piehouse

In what may turn out to be my last visit to a theatre for the foreseeable future, N89 at the Matchstick Piehouse proved a frank and funny look at (South East) London life – long may it continue 

“On the bus, everyone knows how to act”

It takes a hell of a lot to get me on the top deck of a nightbus, an instinctive self-preservation tending to kick in from the lairiness often within, but Mark Daniels’ N89 suggests that I might be missing out on a real slice of life up there, along with the potential for some unexpected connections. 

Right from the off, Daniels nails the emotional balancing act of using public transport – the annoyance of someone right sitting next to you when there’s other free seats, the horror of being fallen asleep on or even worse, spoken to. But when Kim plants herself next to Danny on the long schlep from Trafalgar Square to Erith, a different kind of journey emerges for them.

As casual conversation flirts with, well, a bit of flirting, Kim and Daniel also have to engage with a rolling crew of larger than life characters as the bus rolls through Peckham, Lewisham and beyond. And here, N89 really is deliciously funny as it explores the delights of eavesdropping on the conversations nearby – the shags gone awry, the couples gossiping closely, the drunk loudmouths who are funny until they launch on you…

Edwina Strobl’s smoothly flowing direction also allows for dips into more introspective territory – dealing with overt racism, the gentrification of certain neighbourhoods, whether differences in class are as real as all that. Grace Boyle and Ocean Harris keep you thoroughly invested in the journey and the rest of the company multi-roll most effectively, Natasha Vasandani stands out in particular with some vivid and diverse characterisations.

A canny bit of design sees the splotchy fabric design recreated on the chairs and the seating arrangement lends itself to a neat, semi-immersive feel – just don’t sit near to anyone who looks a bit green in the gills…

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Oli Sones
N89 is booking at the Matchstick Piehouse until 2nd April

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