saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
The Hen and Chickens
11th August 2018
Photography provided by Jittery Pens Productions
I remember vividly something a friend said to me once - "I really wish there were a little bubble over everyone's head, telling you who they are, where they're going and what's happening to them. The moment I find out the story of some of these people I share the bus with, I wonder how on earth they still function." That is the premise of Crossing, a Jittery Pens production written and produced by Arghierenia Kyrimi, Florence Wright and Ugo Nelson. The play aims to provide just that background, telling the story behind the people you see every day, and hoping that the extra consideration it generates will make us think twice before judging strangers in future. It delves into the pressure that each of us is under and covers a broad spectrum of difficulties that lie hidden beneath a stiff upper lip or explode out of someone in a rage, be it from work, relationships or just life.
Tom Stone's staging is simple and effective - four upright poles immediately turn the set into a Piccadilly line train, identifiable even before anyone has spoken. He uses the same minimalist principle with chairs, a bus stop sign and a laptop. Transitions are therefore fast, though once or twice they seem to overrun, with cast still picking up pieces and positioning themselves as the lights come back up - minor, but noticeable. Sound is used to punctuate the show nicely, using ambient recordings of trains arriving and departing - my only incredibly nit-picky criticism here is that Jubilee line sound effects have been used and there is a train going the wrong way at one point given the announcements. Petty, I know, but if the aim is perfection then source the most authentic sound effects and sharpen up the realism of those PAs - it can only add to the atmosphere. That all said, if those are the worst points I can raise then I think we can all agree this is a well-staged production.
Characterisation is intuitive - every one of the people portrayed is a believable Londoner whom we've met at some stage - though the main feedback here is that including all the peripheral characters in each story, there are simply too many to absorb in the space of an hour. I must admit to being unsure whether I was watching a new protagonist or the return of an existing one until quite far into the hour.
The acting is Crossing's strongest element - measured, natural and dependable across the board, and I'm struggling to call out anyone in particular for fear of doing down the rest unfairly. Jimand Allotey is superb as Célia, outward-looking and sensitive towards Zain Qureshi's struggling immigrant (and demonstrating that other outsiders often understand the needs of newcomers better than those who were already here). Qureshi himself later switches to intimidating and overbearing with his portrayal of the American romantic - when a character makes you squirm in your seat, you know it's well-acted. Nell Bradbury comes across as truly downtrodden and despairing as the one invisible hard-worker in the office. Oliver Parnell switches accents effortlessly between characters, transforming himself from angry office worker to socially-conscious flatmate with such ease that it's easy to miss that you're watching the same actor. Corinne Strickett conveys genuine warmth and wisdom as the mother. Nelson plays his parts with a certain self-assurance that ranges from subtle to downright arrogant, yet all are highly credible, the best for me being the office worker fighting for promotion. Whilst Benjamin May is strong on all counts, I'm going to choose the drunken friend in the bar as his best portrayal - he really did annoy me with his sense of entitlement and lack of self-restraint. Kyrimi maintains an understated quality throughout, a certain deepness that grabs the audience's attention.
If there is a criticism to make towards the script, it's that Célia's Frenchisms do risk slipping into stereotype territory with her swearing, which takes away from an otherwise very credible depiction. Considering the quality of the rest of the script, this does seem a curious oversight. Another head-scratching moment comes when Parnell's Scottish office worker is sitting in the dark (following the announcement "This train terminates here") - where is he meant to be? Forgive me for missing the poetry here; this is a monologue moment that unfortunately had me confused.
Let's keep these criticisms in context though - this is in the round a well-written, well-cast show with a powerful message, which just needs some fine tuning. Crossing is a must-see for any Londoner who has held that same curiosity as I have about all those strangers we're thrown together with on London's transport system. You will leave with a new sense of intrigue and maybe, just maybe, you'll find your mind more open to strangers and their stories.
Crossing opened on 11th August and runs until 12th August 2018 at the Hen and Chickens, as part of the Camden Fringe.
Nearest tube station: Highbury and Islington (Victoria, Overground)