views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Hen and Chickens
26th August 2017


Publicity image for Moments

Photography provided by Pennyworth Productions

London can be a lonely place, particularly if you move here without knowing anyone or find yourself cut off from your old social network. Yet while this is generally acknowledged, few people are brave enough to admit that they themselves have ever suffered personally. Moments, written by Julia Cranney, gives the lonely a voice. The result is a very relatable, moving, and often humorous piece which has just the right amount of emotion without feeling unnecessarily sentimental.

Young Ava (Cranney) moved to London six months ago from the North. She finds herself working in customer services and living in a house share with people she barely sees. London hasn’t proven to be the fresh start or big adventure that she had hoped. Her daily routine is monotonous and dull, and when she leaves work on Friday there is a good chance she won’t speak to another living soul until Monday. Not that working life is much fun either - most of the day is spent with headphones on in the call centre and lunch is eaten alone in the park. On the phone to her parents, she portrays a fantasy life of constant drinks with friends and cake with colleagues. However, the reality is that her birthday is spent alone drinking wine at home. When she cuts her hand badly on a glass, she finds that Daniel (Simon Mattacks), a middle-aged man who she encounters daily on her bus route, is in A&E too and the pair finally start up a proper conversation.

Daniel lives in a bedsit, having recently suffered a break-up. His grown-up child is angry with him, and as a security guard, his job doesn’t give him much opportunity for a chat. While you'd expect his life to be quite different from Ava's, in reality, they both go through similar repetitive routines every day. Director Richard Speir shows us the detail of these unremarkable habits, with the characters situated at either side of a shelf designed by Carys Wright, which forms the backdrop to both homes. The haphazardly placed objects demonstrate the banality of life - trainers, Shreddies, calendar, paper complete with crossword puzzle, plastic bag... I must admit that I found this initial introduction to their lives a little dull, but then I suppose that was the point - their routines are boring. As they each eat breakfast or take the bus, a voiceover alerts us to their actions, sometimes with an amusing side remark.

As they go about their lives, Daniel and Ava cross paths more and more frequently. They find themselves craving these moments, for the simple human interaction that such encounters entail. They start to learn more about each other, and in doing so we as an audience come to empathise with them. By the end of the performance, I felt so connected to Daniel and Ava that I had to fight back tears. In a way, this was a strange reaction. There is no major turning point, good or bad, their problems (which are not as extreme as some people's) remain unresolved, and their lives are still tedious. However, I genuinely cared about them and, while I’m lucky to be in a better position than they are, the mundane drudgery of life is something to which we can all relate (at least sometimes). The acting from Mattacks and Cranney, which becomes increasingly strong as the play goes on, also helped to hook me after the initial slow start.

Moments is a simple but well-executed production. Cranney is certainly a talent to look out for, both as an actor and, perhaps more so, as a writer. It will be interesting to see what she does next.

Moments opened on 21st August and runs until 27th 2017 at the Hen and Chickens, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Highbury and Islington (Victoria, Overground)

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