Review: Ham, Egg and Chips.
A delightful delicacy of family-based comedy
Ham, Egg and Chips, the newest creation from Noah Geelan (The Arm in the Cat Flap), is a plate full of goodness that will leave you feeling full but not bloated in the slightest.
The evening is a three play event, all quite literally centred around dining tables, focussing on the often highly fraught family dramas that take place at mealtimes. Coming into the Corpus Playroom, you're greeted by a small, traditional restaurant complete with table flowers, stock photos of Rome and a lovely living wall lattice – the set (by Joy Gingell, also on Producing and Publicity) is pitch perfect throughout, simple but sophisticated with quick, dynamic scene changes, and treasured little details (such as a specials board featuring profiteroles that take their own star turn).
We start off with 'Ham' (directed by Caroline Yu), where a family of 4 head to an Italian restaurant to 'celebrate' Flo's (Billie Collins) performance in a production of Peter Pan. The Corpus Playroom does this setting a huge favour – pre-show chatter creates the sort of low-level ambience you'd expect in somewhere like Don Beni's, and so laughs are imminent when the waiter (Tom Nunan) strides out with floating camp and begins to hand audience members menus (the audience are used again twice more in 'Ham' to great effect, with a photo moment leaving the whole auditorium in stitches). Josh Loyd as Kieran, an estate agent son who just received a promotion, and Francesca Bertoletti as the moody teenager Jessica both deserve nods for their performances, but Helen Williams excels in her role as mother Heather, uncannily encapsulating the not-quite-invested parent who mostly enjoys celebratory dinners for the wine (the way she quips that 'someone's not getting a tip' must have been heard in most restaurants across the country).
From the offset, 'Ham' displays why Geelan's projects get the buzz that they do. The script is quick, filled to the brim with wonderful wordplay (that as an English student I adore to great extent), but perhaps most importantly contains a small moment of reflection hidden amongst the hilarity. Flo's speech on familial attention and favouritism is delivered exquisitely by Collins, and it allows for a quiet moment before the chaotically funny end to this first play. As a writer, Geelan knows when to pull back a little so as to deliver the final punch with emphasised oomph – he knows his craft, and he knows it very well indeed.
Oomph and chaos is what can surely be expected from round two: 'Egg' (directed by Sacha Hopkins-Powell). Previously seen at the Downing Festival of New Writing in Lent term of last year as 'The Egg Consensus', Ham, Egg and Chips' middle outing offers up a masterclass in the comedy of awkwardness. From the opening account of a half-smile encounter with old school 'friends' to the many revelations that pepper this brunch-gone-bad, comedic tension is used by not only Geelan, but also all four on stage to brilliant effect.
Rob Ryan as Paul uses his egg-chomping monologue aimed at that-mother-in-the-playground wife Saskia (Annabel Bolton) with ever more savage vigour, whilst wives Jennifer (Sophie Atherton) and Georgia (Ada Barume) try (and miserabally fail) to keep some sense of order. The most outright comedic of the three plays, Atherton delivers the final, ingenious line with such great comedic timing that I was glad for the moment between acts to compose myself!
And then comes 'Chips' (directed by Alastair Henfrey). The longest of the three, this two-person intimate look at family life after loss has mother Robyn (Annabelle Haworth) desparately trying to reconnect with her estranged son Liam (Jamie Bisping). As the technophobic, pop-culture disjointed mother we all know and love, Haworth is a delight: peering over her at-the-end-of-the-nose glasses and adorably mispronouncing Wii has us falling in love with her from the off.
Bisping bounces from her beautifully, capturing the awkward teen incredulousness of watching a very uncool adult trying to be cool. Though this is not just humour: this is a play about humanity, grief, and the road back to normalcy, and even before the saddening reasons for her attempts at connection come to light. Haworth's pained and hopeless expressions left my heart breaking through the creasing laughter, whilst Bisping's closed refusal made the ensuing emotionally baring scenes so much more staggering. In one certain embrace, I don't think I breathed for a full minute, and by the end of the show, I wasn't sure whether my tears were from joy or sympathy. With the precious talent that Geelan and the cast have given us, it's probably both.
As a collection, Ham, Egg and Chips fits together like a dream. With abundant laughs and a big heart, this is joyous familial theatre at its finest.