Best Men /Between Women, Hen & Chickens, London

Paul Taylor
Wednesday 17 August 2005 11:14
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This co-production by The Sticking Place and The Actors' Group presents two entertaining, if slightly lightweight, plays about the same situation. Given such a brief, Alan Ayckbourn would have had them interlocking in ingenious ways - as in House and Garden, with the actors rushing between two auditoria in simultaneous performances. The double-bill on view here is happily free from that kind ofcontrivance. It does perhaps miss a trick, though, since the authors (who also direct and act in the first of their pieces) are both men. One can't help feeling that, by simple dint of insider knowledge, Adam Meggido's all-male Best Men has the humourous edge on Alex McSweeney's all-female Between Women.

In the former, McSweeney excels as Tom, a kind of bargain-basement Iago. By posing as a reluctant imparter of uncomfortable news ("Honestly, don't go down that road..."), he tries to plant seeds of sexual and professional doubt and drive a wedge between the harassed groom (Jack Murray) and his closer friend and business partner, Alex (an amusingly indignant Meggido).

A droll daisy-chain of confidential duologues shows Tom dismally fail to become Best Man and leads up to the stag night where the trio are united for the first time. The actors beautifully negotiate the lurches between pissed portentousness, cackling hilarity and a shared fear of being full of shit. Sturdily heterosexual they may be, but there's the strong suggestion that men feel the marriage of a friend as an emotional betrayal.

Elsewhere, three of the bride's friends are preparing for the hen night. The only trouble being that the hen has reportedly bolted to Brighton to consult an ex-lover. As they debate how to explain her absence (slipped disc? sun-lamp accident?), secrets surface that will require an elaborate cover-up, presuming the bride ever returns. Taken as a whole, the evening establishes a piquant contrast between male and female notions of solidarity. It's a pity, though, given the gender-specific perspectives, that a woman playwright isn't involved in this venture.

To 27 August (020-7704 2001)

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