17 October 2016
Two short plays written by Charlie Howitt and produced by Reverend Productions, both featuring the same cast of four, the first titled Jekyll & Hyde and the second Nerve. Performed at the Greenwich Theatre.
Jekyll & Hyde
Taking its title from the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, the play centres around a surgeon named Ellie Jekyll and her new relationship with a younger neighbour, Abigail, who meets her by chance following an injury she incurs in an apartment block. Ellie lives with her terminally ill brother who requires full-time care and the piece follows her increasing struggle to manage the intensity of her difficult job and the complexity of her home life.
While in theory the play explores some interesting themes and the title itself does enough to peak interest, in practice the writing lacks composure and fluidity and overall feels rather incomplete. It starts bright and snappy, introducing us to Ellie played by Charlie Howitt and Abigail played by Kate Novak, both of whom come across as likable characters, but as the scenes progress the narrative seems to lose its structure and instead becomes a collection of conversations that don’t really develop or build on each other. The relationships between the actors also feel a little forced and unbelievable at times, in particular that between siblings Ellie and Simon (played by Jack Govan) who struggle to portray a closeness you’d expect from a brother and sister, particularly in their particular situation.
That being said, Howitt does successfully portray Ellie as a bolshie, independent and confident woman with hidden vulnerability and there are some enjoyable moments when she is onstage with Novak. The two bounce off each other well and for the most part are engaging despite the unclear narrative. By contrast, Govan and Lee Comley seem less comfortable in their roles as brother Simon and carer Tom. It is difficult to work out either of their characters’ stance on the issues in the play and at times they appear to be churning out the dialogue more than exploring the lines any deeper. Both are admittedly working with less established roles than their female counterparts, but more emotion and feeling in their performances would have been beneficial.
The simplistic set–a sofa, coffee table and slightly unnerving hanging light–appropriately creates the scene and keeps the action raw and realistic. Director Jason Warren’s staging is appropriate, never allowing the piece to become cramped or cluttered but rather successfully creating a closeness that allows the audience to empathise with the players.
Despite decent performances from the female leads, the muddled writing leaves this play feeling underdeveloped and confusing rather than intriguing or complete, and it may have benefited from trying to tackle less topics in the short space of time.
Set in the same apartment block but with a completely different story, Nerve follows Sam and her daily interactions with new housemate Danny, pregnant best friend Tess, and neighbour/police officer Greg. All is seemingly going well with Danny and Sam, who become ever closer during the play, until an altercation between Danny and an aggressive neighbour leave tensions riding high.
Not unlike Howitt’s other piece, Nerve also deviates from its key narrative in an attempt to tackle other issues, whether that be Greg’s attempts to rekindle his relationship with his ex-wife, or Tess’s doubts about going through with her pregnancy. In this case however, she avoids over-complicating things too much and manages to keep control of the narrative producing an entertaining short story with interesting and believable characters. Conversations are natural but still engaging, and barring a slightly overwrought four-way argument, the piece feels relatable and poignant.
Again based in the living room of a flat, the dialogue is allowed to take precedence over the setting. Sound is used to good effect in this play, altering between background noise such as a neighbour’s music or a television, and silence to tease out the drama and discomfort. Warren maintains a fast pace throughout with the scenes flowing well into each other and is able to intertwine the lighter and heavier moments of the script.
Despite playing a supporting role in this play, Howitt once again shines, this time as the free-spirited Tess who becomes increasingly petrified by the idea of becoming a mother. Novak also puts in a decent performance but it is Comley who really comes into his own. Even in early scenes when things are pleasant and relaxed, his presence emits a sense of unease and he is able to build on this as the play progresses. Sadly, Govan is less assure in his role, and while he does manage create an awkwardness that his character clearly needs, at times he struggles with delivery.
A well-written and entertaining play that tackles some interesting issues, with an able cast that work well together to produce both light-hearted relationships and agonising tension.