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Theatre review: small hours 
17th-Jan-2011 10:05 pm
tragicomedavatar
The new regime at Hampstead seems to want to make more conspicuous use of its studio, which until now seemed to only rarely be used as a public performance space. As such small hours was my first visit to the Michael Frayn Space, downstairs. Alex Eales' set design reminded me of the Royal Court's Scarborough three years ago, because here too there's no separate actor/audience spaces, just an oversized room (in this case a living/dining room) that the audience has to seat themselves around. It's sometime after 3am and a woman (Sandy McDade) is wide awake, her insomnia evidently a symptom of her post-natal depression. Desperetely trying to fill her time she phones her husband who's on a business trip, tries and fails to book a cinema ticket, watches TV and tries to ignore the baby's crying. The only spoken lines are when she's on the phone but it's not a quiet show - to cover up the crying she hoovers, puts the TV volume up and eventually dances to the Chemical Brothers' "Hey Boy Hey Girl" which she plays loudly several times in a row. The show's an assault on the senses in other ways, as a phantom smell causes the woman to repeatedly spray the room with large amounts of a rather sickly perfume.

This is one of those shows that's hard to review because it aims to recreate a pretty nightmarish, claustrophobic feeling, so even though it succeeds it's not a fun play to watch. It has two writers (Lucy Kirkwood and Ed Hime) although it feels as if director Katie Mitchell was an even larger influence on the finished product. She's coaxed a very intense, uncomfortable-to-watch performance from McDade and every so often you feel very sucked into what's going on (or failing to go on) but the one-hour-show's very nature means you're bored for long chunks of it. Before going onto the set the audience were asked to take our shoes off; at least this came in handy as at times I kept myself entertained by looking at people's socks. An experiment that does achieve what it sets out to do, but doesn't create a satisfying show in the process.

small hours by Lucy Kirkwood and Ed Hime is booking until the 5th of February at Hampstead Theatre's Michael Frayn Space.
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