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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!




Diorama Arts presents


Henna Night



by Amy Rosenthal

Director - Peter James

Producer – Mark Ross & Diorama Arts

Stage Manager - Christina Hostad

Scenic Design – Roger Glossop

Sound Design – Sam Glossop

Lighting Design – Ian Wilson


New Diorama Theatre


10 – 28 June 2014

Henna Night is a one-act two-hander, set entirely in Judith’s (Hatty Preston) studio flat, a hub of displacement and transition, all boxes, cases and empty cigarette boxes. It’s a strikingly busy set and a reflection of her cluttered thoughts which become apparent from her first drunken utterances. A brand new ‘futon’ or, in all honesty, sofa-bed, takes pride of place. We learn later on that this has been sourced in Ikea, a mystical place regularly invoked in the play. It’s referred to as somewhere vast you can pretend you are when you’re somewhere else, a place where flat-packed items can be acquired and whole lifestyles purchased and later assembled.

Like much of the imagery summoned in this dead-smart play I don’t imagine these references are incidental. The question of whether or not people’s lives can be lost, stolen, or transferred like commodities features heavily throughout. Judith is obsessed with the idea that hers has been snatched away by Ros (Nicola Daley), in the form of her ex-boyfriend Jack. When Ros hears a desperate drunken voicemail left for him by Judith she decides it’s the sort of message that demands a response and she takes it upon herself to deliver one.

Following from this relatively simple premise the two rivals spend hours together asking questions of and sharing secrets with one another. We learn that Judith is ‘adorably flawed’ and ‘beguilingly wrong footed’. Hatty Preston has her sensitive, obsessive, dramatic nature pinned down perfectly. Ros, on the other hand is a pragmatic and sensible pillar of reason. A straight-talking realist, she is smartly dressed and practically-minded. Nicola Daley captures her innate sensibleness wonderfully, for example, comically enquiring in the midst of heartfelt discussion whether Judith has moisturised her forehead before applying henna to her hair.

The rudiments of heartbreak are worked through, poignantly including the tendency of the broken-hearted to wallow in bereavement and their successor to want them to ‘get on with it’. Judith and Ros already know of each other although they’ve never met, enabling comical moments of mutual resentment, executed perfectly by Preston and Daley. Exasperated sighs at each other’s occupations, “I teach”, “I know”, “I’m in publishing”, “I know” epitomise such umbrage. This play does not only deliver snapshots of the end of one relationship and the start of another; it’s a tender universal portrait of the complex and often overlooked relationships between the left and the gone-to, the ex and new. Jack is present only as a voice on an answering machine and in a very flattering photo passed between the two at intervals. In said framed image he benefits from generous black and white effect and wearing sunglasses, indicative of the kind of benefit which can be awarded to all lost loves in the rose-tint of imagination.

This is fresh, bold contemporary theatre at its pared-down best. If you didn’t know Henna Night was first performed 15 years ago you’d be forgiven for thinking this was its first run, a testament to Amy Rosenthal’s searing script and Peter James’s succinct direction. Henna Night is comic in its realism and is fuelled by the empathy, not the sympathy of the audience. So continues my unbroken run of never seeing anything less than brilliant at New Diorama Theatre, a bastion of theatrical daring and taste in London.
New Diorama Theatre
15-16 Triton Street, Regents Place
London, NW1 3BF
Tickets: £12.50 / £10 (Concessions)
Box Office: 0207 383 9034


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