A black box theatre, dimly lit, with a lack-lustre dinner table placed at the centre, invites the audience to settle on chairs laid on nearly all four sides of the room. The suspenseful score foreshadows the action in the play and Liz (played by Bethany Monk-Lane) inconspicuously starts setting up the table, arranging it with precision and control. Her serious demeanour yet again foreshadows what is to unfold- stark, bizarre, and powerful.
Written and directed by Sam Smithson, A Good Time Was Had by All poses important questions about exercising justice and blows the extent to which one can go to take a stand – “I acted when it mattered.” A dinner party hosted by Liz, who has recently returned from a war zone, for a bunch of university friends quickly turns into a surreal amalgamation of morality, power, and personal choice. Liz is joined by Anna (played by Hattie Kemish) who works for the BBC, and Chris (played by Cameron Wilson) is about to marry Georgia (played by Holly Mccomish).
Not Quite Ready Productions staged an experimental piece with the first part following a relatively linear narrative. At the advent of the plot twist, the show took a swift turn to become absurdist and surrealist, being true to the vein of the production company’s style.
Being expressionist in nature, the play also proves to be a strong satire on war and patriarchy. Smithson’s skilful direction managed to garner uncomfortable chuckles even in the most disgustful moments.
The essence of each character is beautifully portrayed with a compelling performance by the entire cast. Kemish brilliantly played a sarcastic, cheeky, and witty Anna who transforms for the second part with excellent physicality. Wilson’s portrayal of a hedonistic and pragmatic Chris is vulnerable and revulsive at the same time. His chemistry with Kemish and Mccomish is apt and impactful. Mccomish’s character successfully provided comic relief, vital for a play such as this one. Monk-Lane neatly held her ground in portraying a strong, powerful, and, psychotic Liz. While the sound created and held the tension in important moments, the red and amber washes and quick blackouts amplified the freakish and dreamlike vibe of the play. The entire play, however, was staged to face the sound operator instead of the majority audience hiding Wilson’s face for the better part of the play.
Gripping, thrilling, and thought-provoking, I would definitely recommend it to an audience who wishes to witness their dark demons and turn and twist uncomfortably in their chairs. I can’t guarantee that they would watch the same version as I did though since Smithson has created a section with twelve different sketches- ‘(a)…show that changes every night.’
Playing until April 23rd, https://www.thehopetheatre.com/productions/a-good-time-was-had-by-all/
Reviewer: Khushboo Shah
Reviewed: 8th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★