Henna Night at the New Diorama
“Depending how I feel tomorrow morning, I’ll either slash my wrists or dye my hair”: right from the outset Amy Rosenthal’s one-act play, written in 1999, sets a darkly comic tone that it struggles to maintain.
The small stage is cluttered with boxes and rubbish, which gives the impression of a cramped London bedsit. Wine-swilling Judith (Hatty Preston) leaves an answerphone message for ex-boyfriend Jack suggesting that she’s pregnant and she’s going to kill herself. She immediately regrets it, but the next day Jack’s new girlfriend Ros shows up to see if Judith is alright.
Preston has the larger-than-life manner, physical silliness and facial expressions of Miranda Hart – a loveable, klutzy woman who’s unlucky in love. The darkness of what Judith’s suggesting – suicide, pregnancy, abortion – is always covered up by her need to make jokes. This tendency completely deflates any sense of edginess. Instead, Judith just comes across as whiny, drunk and self-pitying, and there are very few moments when she drops the snide, sarcastic persona. In those moments she is very moving.
Ros (Nicola Daley) is a more interesting character. She is mature enough to visit her boyfriend’s ex in order to make sure that she’s ok. Ros acts like an adult, Judith like a child. Daley shows her character’s maturity well, playing Ros as both awkward (because she’s in Judith’s flat) but authoritative (because she does not want Ros to commit suicide).
Henna Night is a fairly dull, middle-class drama full of references to Habitat, Ikea, Veneziana pizza and Futons. There are dark moments to latch onto – hints of mental health problems, of class divide. But the comedy is played up, the emotional depth of the characters played down. Rosenthal’s script does not let the audience work much out for themselves either. Just as we get the measure of the characters, Rosenthal spells it out for us: “You’re so bloody flawless” says Judith to Ros, “and you’re so adorably flawed” is the reply.
As an exploration of a break-up it is competent, with moments of insight. But the dominant voice is not Ros’ or Judith’s – it’s Rosenthal’s. Too many pithy lines sound like the playwright overriding her characters and in covering ground that has been trampled on endlessly for decades. The story of a middle-class break-up, Henna Night struggles to find anything interesting to say.
Henna Night is on at the New Diorama Theatre until 28th June 2014, for further information or to book visit here.