New Theatre Uncut- ‘Disastrous Dates’ @ The Den

The New Theatre Uncut has continued to go from strength with its second production titled Disastrous Dates. Portraying a hilarious fly-on-the-wall perspective on the often overwhelming, humorous and down-right awkward nature of first-dates; this collection of scenes written and directed by Becky Roberts is exactly what was needed to cheer up a grey Monday afternoon.

The first sketch There’s A Fly In My Soup set the mood for the rest of the performance. What originally seemed like a predictable scenario (smarmy bloke chats up girl on train, somehow convinces her to come on a date with him before revealing his true nature) is completely subverted by the sudden appearance of the eponymous soup-fly on the stage, represented by Tom Barnes in an impressive costume. Delivered entirely in a witty, rolling verse with extensive use of audience address;  Danielle Wright, William Andrew and Tom Barnes pitched their characters perfectly. Andrew in particular exuding the essence of that arrogant slime-ball we all love to hate, relishing statements such as, ‘I can remember my own birth’.

This formula was repeated twice more: once in Grape Expectations, a cautionary tale about a couple who meet at a boozy fancy dress event; him in a monkey suit, her as a bunch of grapes (get it?). After a healthy dose of embarrassing dance moves, the pair stumbles to the local play park on their way home, where Henry’s (Nick Slater) infidelity with a close friend of Rosie’s (Rosie Cave) is revealed. A similar method was employed in a later sketch, The Cinema. Obnoxious posh-boy Henry (expertly portrayed by Hugh Chichester) does his utmost to be the worst cinema date in history whilst his date Olivia (Alice Turnbull) despairs at his various dating faux pas’ of talking loudly, flicking popcorn into his mouth from distance and openly weeping at the end.  Both of these scenes shared several common elements worthy of note. Both male actors delivered sterling performances, showing that boys really know how to act like dickheads; the female counterparts also showcasing their in-depth knowledge of dealing with such male exuberance. On a more critical note, the endings to both pieces felt somewhat rushed, or underdeveloped, and maybe not up to the standard of humour and energy prevalent at the beginning of the sketches.

If The Cinema, Grape Expectations and There’s A Fly In My Soup were stereotypical portrayals of the dangers of dating men, then The Bunny Boiler was clearly the antithesis. This time focusing on a male character, Joe, played with appropriate levels of bravado by Jonny Fitzpatrick, it told of his great dilemma; do you sleep with someone who is extremely attractive, even if they are completely mental? The crazy in question is brought to life by Adne Duuheric, who stomps around in a tiny black dress and heels with impressive intensity, throwing hot coffee as well as tantrums all over the stage and subsequently terrifying every man in the room. Even in this scenario though, the male figure doesn’t get away blemish free, referring on several occasions to his accumulation of ‘lad points’ and gaining ‘another notch’, which seems a shame given the battering single blokes get in previous scenes.

It is Elephant In The Room however which I think deserves the most attention; a fascinating concept clearly sprung from an over-active imagination. A couple, Pete (Lawrence Court) and Hannah (Verity Spencer) arrive back at hers after a night out, awkwardly navigating the social obstacle course that is pre-sexual discourse. What they don’t reckon with however is the actual presence of a literal elephant in room, or at least, a rhino in this case; represented by Tony Strain. The rhino sets about making his presence clear, jibing at the couple and forcing them into even more awkward situations until it becomes too much and Pete leaves Hannah  broken hearted.  Despite strong performances from all involved, particularly Verity Spencer whose comic timing and physicality created the majority of the laughs, this scene lacked the careful thought and polish which could have developed it into the utterly side-splitting sketch it deserved to be. With more time and maybe a refinement and sharpening of the script, this concept could easily be made into a full-length comedy in its own right.

Disastrous Dates was in turn hilarious, fascinating and down-right awkward. It kept the audience rapt for the duration, which was just as long as it needed to be. A showcase of real comedic talent in acting, writing and directing and an excellent second show in the New Theatre’s external season.

Alex Mawby

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