Review: Shorts, Hen & Chickens Theatre

Theatre Handmade presents Shorts: A collection of one-act plays at the Hen & Chickens Theatre

“What do they say about you?”

As suggested by the title, Shorts: A collection of one-act plays is something of a grab-bag of miniature theatrical treats and as with a bag of Revels, there’s both delight and danger in the randomness of the selection. The programme has been curated with the intention of celebrating “the beauty and frailty in human connection” and hopes to “reignite our sense of hope in one another” but there are moments where you might wish a stronger thematic connection had been identified, if only to give the evening a more memorable shape.

For there’s some fine work here. 4 UK premieres including a sketch from John Patrick Shanley and the first new airing of 2 of the plays, including Nick Payne’s, that made up the Bush Theatre’s 2011 Sixty-Six Books extravaganza. So we journey from deepest Tennessee to a hat shop somewhere in Poland, from affairs bursting into life to dreams of perfect parenthood vanishing into thin air, there’s even room for an audio drama piped in while the company take a well-earned rest on the stage here at the Hen & Chickens.

Shanley’s Tennessee is a terrific two-hander, a slice of almost Southern Gothic-tinged interaction as a college-dropout wannabe musician seeks out the town’s resident psychic but isn’t necessarily prepared for what she has to tell him. Allegra Marland nails the rich poetry of the misfit mystic and Kieran Urquhart finds real appeal ias the would-be guitarist. I also enjoyed Cary Gitter’s How My Grandparents Fell In Love with all its quirky old-school budding romance, Elizabeth Connick and Robbie O’Neill successfully answering the question ‘does anyone still wear a hat…’.

A tinge of dark humour comes through nicely in Gracie Gardner’s Hate Baby, the type of play that would have Mumsnet users hilariously up in arms. And the programme finishes strongly with the two pieces responding to books of the Bible, Connick and Urquhart particularly good in the twisted relationships of Payne’s Fugitive Motel. It’s all good, and sometimes excellent, but in this current format, it doesn’t necessarily feel greater than the sum of its parts, lacking that definitive common thread to elevate it from a collection of well-acted and well-written curiosities to a must-see marvel.

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Shorts is booking at Hen & Chickens Theatre until 20th May

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