A first set of 2022 Camden Fringe reviews featuring Scruffy and Colloquium at the Hen & Chickens and The Party at the Hope Theatre
“Ow, you’re making it worse”
The 2022 Camden Fringe kicked off in fine style for me with Sugar Theatre’s Scruffy, written and performed by Rosie Hollingworth. Told from the perspective of precocious 9-year-old Maisie Evelyn Webster, we’re invited to find out all about her life – her three favourite pairs of sunglasses, a PowerPoint that includes her tongue skills, and her singing and dancing prowess too. But though everything seems perky, small hints creep through that suggest not everything is quite right – she’s got her own teacher, a therapist and has to use the phone to speak to her parents.
And as the truth about her situation is gradually uncovered, we see the cleverness and uniqueness of the storytelling. For Maisie has an eating disorder and is in a residential recovery clinic, where she bristles under the constant scrutiny of the “close eyes” everyone wants to keep on her. So it is a hilarious and heartwarming piece of theatre which absolutely got me in the feels. The production of her own play is pure genius (and entirely recognisable though I shall name no names of my niece 😉) and a hugely anticipated trip to Pizza Express is simply devastating as it unravels.
Sugar Theatre’s gently but insistently interactive production is ideally set up for the fringe. And Hollingworth does a fantastic job at nailing the absolute sincerity of her 9-year-old character, particularly impressive is the way she co-opts and guilt-trips that audience participation, which was delightful it has to be said. And the way the show never lets us forget the louring dark clouds of her disease – the picture always above the mirror, the gut-punch that you sadly know just has to come – whilst maintaining a filigree thread of hope to the end. Brilliant work.
Katherine Stockton’s Colloquium is a curiously fascinating thing. Set in the soi-disant hallowed halls of Oxbridge, her play examines the impact of life in elite academia on six people at different stages in their career. The professor on the verge of retirement, the professor champing at the bit to replace him, 2 PhD students dealing with their own pressures, and 2 applicants with wildly differing expectations of their upcoming interviews. Cutting between dramatic scenes and direct address, the play challenges the role and purpose of higher education at this elite level for us today.
With just an hour to play with and six different perspectives to try and put across, Stockton does well to establish her characters, even if there is a little unevenness in their presentation. There’s interaction between the professors and the students, probing at the value and effectiveness of assessment, and indeed of learning, how can success really be measured, in exam results or personal development? The PhD guys feel a little less well integrated into the whole, their star moments coming as monologues which hit home even as these characters feel less well-connected.
And in the sweatbox that is the Hope Theatre (fans thankfully provided), Gavin Fleming’s The Party should come with a trigger warning. Opening with a projection of soon-to-be-ex Prime Minister Johnson delivering his address to the nation to announce lockdown and its accompanying strictures, I was in no way prepared for my visceral reaction to the always faux sincerity of his delivery now compounded by what we know to be his errant hypocrisy too.
That sets the scene neatly for Fleming’s play, subtitled A National Farce and/or Tragedy, which takes place in the wine cellars of 10 Downing Street about a year later. COVID restrictions may still be in place for the nation but behind closed doors, unabashed ‘work events’ are taking place and at one such party, Tory SpAd Samuel has finally caught the eye of sexy waiter Dean and ushered him down the stairs for a different interpretation of the ‘hands, face, space’ mantra.
But after a good railing and some highly amusing post-coital chat, it soon becomes clear that both men have more on their agenda, a coiled battle of wit and wine unfurling with poise. Additionally, Samuel’s boss Adrienne – who has her own designs on his ass – is introduced into the mix, highlighting his increasing unease with his position within the political party (and indeed the physical party). Max Mackay’s production nails the sprightly comic pace of a script loaded with real spiky zingers and the company of Louis Cunningham, Madeleine Page and Fleming himself all impress.