I went to a student written play about a hamster and it was so much better than I expected
The attention to detail proved what a labour of love the show was
Last Thursday I spent my evening watching the delight of a play that is Hamsters, a joyous and heartfelt comedy on at Hamilton House in Stokes Croft. The show followed the antics of a mischievous hamster called Peanut that triggers a breakup, a set-up and a whole lot of other chaos.
The play is a creation of ‘Talkers and Doers’, a female-led, Bristol-based theatre company. With a sold out run at the Edinburgh Fringe festival under the company’s belt, it’s a wonder this new piece was able to live up to the name they have created for themselves.
The starting point for the play was writer Rosalie Roger-Lacan’s obsession with the weird and horrific ways that hamsters die. In directorial partnership with Amber Charlie-Conroy, the pair crafted a wonderful and witty tale of a hamster. Bought with extreme impulsivity, like most are, that shines a light on the way people live their lives and calls for them to be examined.
The crew is is comprised of all fantastic females and it was impossible not to feel the dedication and work that went into the show.
As we entered the upstairs venue, there was a buzz in the atmosphere over what we were about to see, it probably also had something to do with the fact that it was BYOB which people certainly took to heart.
With thrust staging and no elevation between the rows, our seats that wrapped almost behind the stage were slightly worrying as the play geared up to start. But I soon realised our seats were as good as any, and a few clever tricks with the writing and the staging made me feel, at points, like I had the best seat in the house.
The plot centres around Peanut who is a catalyst for changes in the relationships that the characters have with one another. Getting passed between homes, the hamster carries the audience through the story like an almost magical being, meddling in the lives of the characters, without ever actually being seen. Although it has to be said, the actors did not let themselves be overshadowed by the fury protagonist. The scenes switched from dynamic duos to the chaos of the whole cast on stage together seamlessly.
Francine (Molly Grogan) and Frank (Nathan Spellman) were both made for their roles, displaying clear theatrical chemistry. The highlight of their coupling had to be an Edelweiss rendition which was apparently added to the script by the cast in the late stages of rehearsals.
With a small and minimal set, props and costumes provided context for the audience, with one particularly effective scene that transitioned through the addition of a couple of coats and some coffee cups. The attention to detail proved what a labour of love the show was, and the straw in Ernie’s pockets (who is a pet shop owner) was a very nice touch.
Emma, played by Elsa Rae Llewelyn, gave an authentic and emotional portrayal of the breakdown of a relationship and also gave us some relatable content as she exploded over a greasy dish that had been ‘left to soak’ for three days.
The writing was littered with pop culture references and was in no way trying to be a pretentious piece of theatre, with Hannah mentioning that her breakup period had been defined by pink vibrators and rewatching Gilmore girls.
Hannah (Alice Bebber) performed silently on the stage as people arrived and took the limelight throughout. Whether it was just her, or the whole cast on stage, you could not help but draw your eye to what she was doing.
Ernie, played by Tom Wilson-Dowdeswell, was there not only for the audience’s rodent education but also for powerful comedic relief, being the most expressive of the cast and pulling off a hilarious Aussie accent at times.
As an audience member, I felt oddly included in what was happening on stage; between the standing and singing in the final scene, to the close encounters with characters in the aisles, no seat was truly a bad seat. The experience of the directors shone through in one part in particular where couples took turns to have secret conversations on either side of the stage and then swapped, which gave the illusion that the audience was just another guest at the dinner party, overhearing.
My only complaint would be the interjection of a narrator once or twice, which was more unnecessary than anything. The play was cohesive enough without it and used flashbacks and flash-forwards effectively.
Although the play was definitely a comedy, there were some heart-wrenching and slightly morbid moments. The way the writing switched between these emotions so fluidly, as happens in real life, made them all the more intense. The final scene was genuinely tearful, but also perhaps the one that got the most laughs, which is a credit not only to the creators but also to the commitment of each member of the cast.
When I got my ticket, I thought I was signing up for getting slightly wine drunk and watching some of my peers perform. I did not think I was going to come away which such deep philosophical thoughts about hamsters, or any type of rodent for that matter. As much as it seems hilarious to say, the delicacy of the lives of hamsters feels symbolic. It in some ways emulates the fragile grasp that we think we have on ourselves and those around us when in reality it is out of our hands, and the smallest of events can mess everything up.
Talkers and Doers are headed back to Edinburgh Fringe again this summer with ‘1 Tent. 4 Girls’. It’s amazing to see so many talented women bring something so spectacular together and I do hope this isn’t the last we see of Peanut and the cast of Hamsters.