Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Doubly Absurd

Contractions and The American Dream

Highbury Theatre Centre


HIGHBURY fill their diminutive studio space this week with not one but two short One Act plays in the style of Theatre Absurd.

The first is Contractions by Mike Bartlett. Billed as an `Ink black comedy', it has to be said that much of the early conversation in this employee versus manager scenario is chilling truthful. 

The Manager (Shelia Knapman) and Employee Emma (Hannah Parry) start out on what seems like a casual chat about Emma's status in the office and progress to a grotesque and Orwellian ending over the period of about an hour. There's laughter but most people don't know why as the manager delivers a series of ever more controlling questions till Emma is literally straightjacketed into submission.  Knapman and Parry did an excellent job in building the surreal tension with Knapman calmly allowing Bartlett's needle sharp text to do the work of creating, then burying Emma's highly emotional tragedy with her corporate ridicule.


In the second half of the evening we get The American Dream by Edward Albee.   Albee's play is, on the surface, a simple snapshot from a slightly odd 60s American family. It is in fact a far more surreal portrait in that it exposes the superficial condition of living the perfect American life. In its short running time it manages to highlight subjects such as the emancipation of men, the disregard for the old, the obsession for the perfect child and punishment of the wayward, greed ,materialism , death and the veneer of fake social status.

It is perhaps the giant task of mastering this overload of detail that was sometimes lost in this production directed by Liz Parry as each of the characters needed more of an exaggeration to highlight their cartoon qualities.

Best and most consistent in her Americana was Claire Armstrong Mills as Grandma. Mills was as every bit effective in the role as Sophia in the Golden Girls TV series, continually ambling about with her wise cracks and deceptive wiliness.   

Alison Cahill as Mommy was good too with her cutting small town ladies institute thinking and an undercurrent of vicious spite.

The two plays together worked well as an evening's studio production and whilst completely different offer the audience the chance to witness this extreme form of playwriting in action.

If you are looking for things to make perfect real sense, have a valid point and a conclusion then you won't easily find them here. You can rest assured though that across this collection of corporate and family charters you will to a lesser or greater degree, either have encountered, been one of them yourself or know someone like it and in reality that's just absurd.    To 20-10-12

Jeff Grant 

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