6 April 2016

The Mercy Seat at Hampton Hill Theatre had rich dialogue delivered skilfully

This was one of those fortunate things that do happen from time to time. I was vaguely aware that there was a small theatre in Hampton Hill but had felt that it was too far out of my way to pay serious attention to. Then it looked like I might get a job in Teddington and so I looked for theatres that I could get to easily from there and discovered the Hampton Hill Theatre (sadly, little else).

Then things got better. I looked at their programme, which is intermittent, and saw that they had a Neil LaBute play coming up and that was a done deal. And the price of that deal was a miserly £12, well within the do-not-even-think-about-it range.

I had travelled through Hampton Hill many times by bus, on the way towards Heathrow, but had only been there a couple of times and that was to the same pub, the Bloated Mallard. Confident that there was at least one place that I could eat there I decided to make an evening of it. That began with a walk over the Teddington Footbridge and along the main road in Teddington before catching a bus for the last leg.

Having found the theatre easily enough I was advised by somebody going in there that the box office would be open later and that the pub next door was a good place to wait. That pub was the The Refectory and it did the job. It was a quirky pub split into different zones and I picked somewhere in the middle to have a beer and a snack.

Moving on to the theatre I was pleased to see that it had a small bar. It had a limited supply and nothing on draught but bottled beer was fine. There was a friendly feel in the bar and as the theatre was managed by Teddington Theatre Club I suspected that a lot of the people there knew each other.

There were two performance spaces in the theatre and The Mercy Seat was in the smaller space, the Noel Coward Studio Theatre, and it took a while and some questioning for me to work out which door we would have to go through to get there. Once that was established I hung around the door in question but not too close to seem over keen.

My positioning and alertness meant that I was among the first people to go through to the theatre and I followed a series of signs along some very business-like corridors to get there. The theatre was set up in an "L" shape with seating on two sides of the stage. On that stage was a sofa and I reasoned that this would be the centre of the action and I took a seat in the front row facing the sofa.

The premise of the play was fairly simple, if a little odd.

This was a few days after 9/11 and a couple had survived by being in her flat rather than in the office. The problem was he was married and was having an affair with a colleague. His wife kept calling him to see if he was alright but he was not answering his phone. He had reasoned that being missing presumed dead gave them the opportunity to start a new life together in a different place.

She was less convinced by this plan as she liked her job and wanted him to make a positive break from his wife rather than using this excuse to sneak away.

There were only two people in the play Abby (Amanda-Jade Tyler) and Ben (Nick Barr) and it was all about their conversations. These were about what they should do and also about how their relationship had formed and developed. Like real conversations do, it frequently veered off from the main subject and did not often get back there. Also like real conversations the mood changed too and the tense discussions about the difficult decision they had to make were balanced by lighter moments. One topic that particularly stuck in my mind was Abby explaining to Ben that his preference for having sex from behind and her lack of engagement in the act meant that she was used to reading the labels on the mattress and she wondered how his wife coped.

The construct of the play called to mind LaBute's In a Forest Dark and Deep which consisted solely of a brother and a sister talking to each other. Both plays also twisted sharply and unexpectedly at the end.

The Neil LaBute dialogue made The Mercy Seat a great play and the acting skills of Amanda-Jade Tyler and Nick Barr made this a great production. I was able to tell them that afterwards simply by loitering next to the changing area until they emerged.

If this is anything like typical for what the Hampton Hill Theatre has to offer then I will be going there regularly.

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