I Have Never at the Hens & Chickens Theatre – Review

I have never hens and chickens theatre highbury and islington

I have never hens and chickens theatre highbury and islington

*Originally Published by A Younger Theatre*

Never have I ever…. Written a review about a drinking game. *Drinks*

For those who have miraculously escaped the most notorious of confessional drinking games, ‘I Have Never’ beguiles the unsuspecting fresher into admitting their darkest secrets or, as this play has it, allows the unashamed to boast of their greatest sexual achievements. Usually the game starts tamely with amusing suggestions such as, “Never have I ever fancied my tutor” or, “Never have I ever had sex in a car.” As the drinks are sipped (read: downed) and stories revealed, however, the game can spiral into the vindictive. Basically, it gets personal.

I Have Never’s premise then, surrounding a uni drinking game, nicely mirrors its structure. It all kicks off in triumphant, truly entertaining style as three students pack up their student house and prepare to burst out of the uni bubble for good. A immaturely graffitied arrangement of cardboard boxes makes up the set and the complicated ménage à trois living arrangement produces an excellent kitchen sink comedy. Witticisms about student lifestyles abound – drinking out of jam jars in an attempt to be ‘different’, spending all the government’s money on booze, that one housemate who couldn’t give a f**k about getting the flat deposit back – etc. The number of belly-laugh inducing one-liners is a real achievement for writer, Hugh Roberts. Slowly though, the arguments become darker and the implications of an irresponsible drink/drug culture emerge.

The play also toys knowingly but rather gently with student stereotypes. Roo – short for Rupert – is a philosophical, media student slob who ‘does MDMA off toilet seats’ and is played with drama-school charm by Stanton Wright. Izzy (Elizabeth Grace-Williams) is the public school girl in hiding, bedecked with a nose ring, half-up top knot, and checked shirt. Her boyfriend, Miles (Lewis Clarke), is an unabashed, blazer and red trouser-wearing ‘old boy’ toff, who’s so rah he thinks the girl (Leila – Bella Balfe) Roo brings back to shag is a prostitute. His go-to small talk is whiskey malts. Cue some brilliantly uncomfortable drunk chats.

There’s nothing explicitly political in the jokes made about class divides, public schooling and student debt. I laughed along with it all in good faith, but reflecting afterwards felt that the humour could have cut deeper, especially in light of looming privatisation in the education sector and the deep inequalities in access to employment. The final character’s mental health issues are also dealt with rather lightly. Bilbo/Bill (Dominic Creasey) is seen taking Prozac, obsessively cleaning (“Bilbo! Stop sweeping. Why are you sweeping…? It’s a carpet!”) and arranging household items into groups of three.

The cast’s execution of the comedy in Adam Buchanan’s production of I Have Never is pitch perfect. For any graduate, it will provide a blissfully entertaining barrage of unaaaay in-jokes and sometimes settle a little too close to home in its fearless ridicule of student oddities.

I Have Never is playing at The Hens & Chickens Theatre until 24 October. For more information and tickets, see The Hens & Chickens Theatre website. 

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