Theatre review: Henna Night at the New Diorama Theatre

New Diorama Theatre

New Diorama Theatre - Credit: Archant

In 1999, Amy Rosenthal (daughter of Jack Rosenthal and Maureen Lipman) won the Sunday Times Drama Award for her incisive 50-minute piece. This lucid revival does justice to its refreshingly perceptive take on female relationships, although its limitations are markedly apparent.

Recently dumped Judith leaves a drunken voicemail for her ex, informing him she has the tools to either slash her wrists or henna her hair. She hopes it’ll bring him running, but instead gets a visit from Jack’s new girlfriend, Ros.

Rosenthal has a lot of fun with this odd-couple pairing: darkly caustic, melodramatic Judith and sensible teacher Ros. Judith lives in a state of perpetual chaos, which Ros is just itching to tidy.

While we’re inclined to sympathise with the victim – we’re on her turf, a depressingly cramped bedsit – ‘the other woman’ makes an eloquent case: it’s not easy living with the ghost of the spontaneous kook, whose lustre grows with distance, and Ros is equally deserving of happiness.

She lists virtuous deeds to offset her guilt, illustrating the (peculiarly female) desire to be understood, forgiven and seen as good. It is, however, dispiriting to watch two women assigning blame and entirely excusing Jack, who is incessantly referenced, inspires total devotion, yet remains inscrutable.

Rosenthal tries to make this a fair fight, but here Hatty Preston dominates. She relishes Judith’s self-protective sarcasm and delves into the raw ugliness of grief: its bitterness, anger and pathetic despair. Nicola Daley is solid, but let down by sluggish delivery.

Peter James’s production balances the smart flippancy and bracing honesty, yet there are times when you wish for something tougher, spikier. The climactic event has quiet power, but feels overly neat in the compressed timeframe. Rosenthal hints that, in another life, these women would be friends, but it doesn’t seem plausible in this one.

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Rating: Three stars

Until June 28.