views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Whines and Spirits
The Hen and Chickens
14th August 2017


Publicity image for Whines and Spirits

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

Looking at the glossy poster for Danny Diamonte (Paul Spires) adorning the centre of the stage, we sigh and roll our eyes as we wait for some cheesy charlatan to rock up with a polished patter and fake messages from beyond, offering to sign our paid for copies of his book. We've all seen the type before - I'm naming no names here, but that's mainly for legal reasons. When Danny comes out on stage, wearing a gold sequinned jacket, he is in absolutely line with our expectations; he reels off his dialogue quickly, his delivery is super camp and he's just far too polished to be a real psychic. However, when his show is suddenly crashed by dead exes Lisa (Annie Burkin) and Martin (Robert Walters), it turns out we may have misjudged this book by his cover. The never more aptly named play Whines and Spirits is a superbly written new comedy, with plenty of heart and great characterisation.

The five protagonists are all fully developed, with their interactions with each other hilarious because they're so credible. It takes very little for Lisa and Martin to break out into a full blown battle and similarly, the bickering between Danny and his partner, Simon (Gary Hailes) is just as silly. The people in each couple get under the other one's skin in the way that only happens when there's a long personal history involved. Whilst the triggers are often ridiculous, you would expect them to be as much in real life. Think back to the last fight you had with your significant other and chances are, it wasn't actually about something important. There's a lot of comedy in the constant squabbling and it's from fiendishly clever writing rather than merely easy laughs of recognition.

Although Martin is especially quick to anger, his obvious devotion towards his recently orphaned daughter, Tallulah (Isabella Caley) is truly poignant. It would be easy to leave him as a two dimensional character for a few cheap giggles, however Burkin allows us to see another more human side to Martin. He's a hot head, yes. He's also a man with feelings. (Well, a dead man with feelings.) Danny too could just be the showman, but again, Burkin lets us see his vulnerable side. She rounds out all her figures of fun and we find ourselves choking up, laughing non-stop in one scene then trying hard not to cry in another (with varying degrees of success). Whilst Tallulah is quite rightly irritated by her parents' lack of harmony beyond the grave, she's also ultimately just a young woman who has recently been bereaved in one of the worst ways possible. We pause for just long enough to realise that and have a cry, before the humour is once again ramped up.

Initially, it does feel a little strange with Danny addressing us, speaking to members of our audience who aren't actually there. Co-directors Burkin and Nick Campbell do though ensure he rattles off his corny jokes and moves on so quickly that there isn't time to process what has been said and to wonder if we should respond somehow. When Martin and Lisa derail the show, this brief awkwardness vanishes rapidly as we understand there is quite definitely a fourth wall and we're merely observers behind it. Without adapting the show to allow for a bit of quick fire improvisation at the start, there's not a lot of scope to make this distincter any clearer and having seen the whole play with its twists and turns, maintaining that distance is in fact absolutely the right decision.

What makes Whines and Spirits so delicious is how you can chuckle so much at the different characters and yet still find yourself so emotionally invested in them. Burkin's great strength is in making us care, which is a surprisingly difficult feat for any playwright to accomplish. An absolute corker of a show with a wide-ranging appeal and glorious depth.

Whines and Spirits opened on 14th August and runs until 20th August 2017 at the Hen and Chickens, as part of the Camden Fringe.

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

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