Tuesday, November 29

Pass The Hat – Stone Nest

How many of you have researched your family tree only to come to a dead end because the trail goes cold?  Do we secretly hope that we will comes across an ancestor with a colourful family history or a skeleton in the family cupboard?  Oliver Bennett’s interest was peeked when he was seven or eight years old when his grandad would not disclose details about his great grandfather.  Many years later as his grandad’s memory began to fade and Bennet’s hopes of finding further information disappeared with it, he decided to read a book that had been given to him years earlier which was the autobiography ‘Farewell Leicester Square’ written by his great grandad.  It was the pandemic when Bennett had time on his hands as most actors did, and the book sparked an idea, to find out more.  Where from though?  His grandfather was not capable of remembering details nowadays, but fortunately he had had the presence of mind to write down some memories of his childhood on ten sheets of paper, and he also had the spying skills of his Mum to help.

Piecing together this information Bennett has been able to sketch a rough picture of his great grandad’s life.  A busker, Henry Hollis was from the East End of London, came from a poor family and tried to make money where he could with his Dad and also alone.  He spoke with a busker’s lingo, a mixture of French, Italian and Romany, and it is with this turn of phrase, that Bennett brings Henry Hollis to life wearing his busking hat, which he uses to collect the money when he tours the clubs and pubs of London.  Bennett slides into character so convincingly, that we are taken on a journey of remembrance of this colourful character.  We leap from when Hollis was a young 15-year-old, to his wonderment at his first sight of the West End of London and he immediately decides he wants to work there.  With the aid of his HUNCHtheatre partner Vladimir Shcherban, who acts as director, the play uses the space in this extraordinary building to their best advantage.  In this small space Bennett’s performance skills paint a picture of his home where he dreamed up the play, the clubs and pubs where Henry Hollis performed, and with the power of video designed by Konstantin Kamenski, we are even taken out to sea during Hollis’ stint in the Navy.

In this intimate space overlooking Shaftesbury Avenue, I am reminded about HUNCHtheatre’s beginnings, performing their first show in a small room in Shcherban’s house to twelve people.  Their style of theatre is about connection to people, their fusion of experience from Belarus and London has ensured that they continue to produce intelligent, heart-warming theatre.  I defy anyone to walk away from this show without feeling that they have journeyed with Bennett on his quest to find his lost ancestor.  His performance is outstanding and the creative skills of Shcherban and Bennett make this a truly interesting evening. 

Stop by at Stone Nest, Shaftesbury Avenue, to see Pass the Hat before it ends on the 9th April.  To buy tickets on a ‘pay what you want’ basis and to find out more about HUNCHtheatre go to https://www.hunchtheatre.org/

Reviewer: Caroline Worswick

Reviewed: 6th April 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★