Henna Night*** (New Diorama Theatre)

Posted: June 15, 2014 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews – http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Our first sight of Judith comes as she sips a glass of red wine (one of many) and staggers around her cramped London bedsit which is cluttered with cardboard boxes surrounding her unmade bed (an IKEA futon to be precise). Roger Glossop’s very realistic set design, which may owe a little to Tracey Emin, is a reflection of a life in chaos. Judith has been dumped by her longstanding boyfriend and, under the influence of the wine, she calls him and gets through to his answering machine to leave a message informing him that she has bought a packet of henna and some razor blades and will decide in the morning whether to dye her hair or slash her wrists. The plan misfires when Judith’s message is received by her ex’s new partner, Ros, and it is she who arrives at the bedsit to sort things out. Amy Rosenthal’s one act play, first staged in 1999, examines the tensions between the two women, victor and vanquished. In the opening stages, Rosenthal’s crisp and observant dialogue consists almost entirely of gentle sarcasm, but, as the balance of the women’s interaction changes, the emotions felt by both are brought out touchingly. Can it be that sisterly bonds may form notwithstanding the rivalry between the pair? Hatty Preston’s Judith is a ditzy extrovert, and we are never quite sure if she is genuinely heartbroken or if her pride has merely received a superficial wound. She acknowledges that she may have lost her man because she tried too hard to keep him, never realising that all he truly wanted was a steadier relationship. Ros is a less exciting school teacher, charitable in that she buys The Big Issue and exudes sympathy for Judith, but, as played by Nicola Daley, she shows a steely determination to hold on to what she has gained. This is not a play to set off fireworks. It is low-key throughout, lacking in dramatic high points and real bite. However the development of the two characters through sharp writing and well rounded performances is ultimately satisfying and, running for just 50 minutes, it never threatens to outstay its welcome.

Performance date: 12 June 2014

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