These two short plays – presented back-to-back as a single show – do share a tenuous theme, but they’re best appreciated as entirely separate works performed by a common cast. The first script’s an outright comedy, while the second’s a touch more sinister. But they’re both delivered with equal élan in a polished and capable production.
The first play, Small World, begins with an all-too-familiar scene: a man settles down for a quiet drink in the pub, only to find a big girls’ night out is taking place at the table next door. Alexi Parkin, as the put-upon lone drinker, contributes a lot to this piece without ever speaking; his muted but expressive responses are beautifully judged, and help add some background interest to what could easily be a rather static scene.
As the volume increases, the conversation inevitably turns towards sex, and we learn that the women have very different views on what constitutes moral virtue. It’s cringe-worthy stuff, but Ray Anthony’s writing is both extremely believable and consistently funny. There’s one slightly odd digression into politics – and because the big punchline comes some distance from the end, the final plot twists feel a little too much like an afterthought. But when the central joke is as sharp and startling as this one is, it’s easy to forgive a few minor issues with the script.
The second play, Charm el Sheikh, gives the humour a harder edge. Paralleling the first piece, the storyline centres around two girls who just want to have fun – only this time, there's a comic disagreement about what “having fun” actually involves. At a classy Egyptian resort, the prim but unshockable Gina is settling down with a mind-expanding book… but the talkative Cher (who won her holiday in a Take A Break wordsearch competition) has rather different ideas.
Once again, this isn’t most sophisticated of humour – many of the jokes involve lasciviously-named cocktails – but in this piece too, the delivery's crisp enough that the show stands up on laughs alone. Every so often, however, a darker shadow passes overhead: it seems that someone is threatening Gina, and Cher soon finds herself embroiled in the intrigue. The dénouement felt a little predictable to me, but that might just mean I’ve spent far too much of my life watching Midsomer Murders.
At an hour-and-a-quarter, the double-bill feels a little on the long side, and Charm el Sheikh in particular could stand to lose a scene or two. Overall though, this is an enjoyable pair of plays, well written and impeccably presented. You won’t learn much about the human condition – but you will get to ride a couple of audacious plot curves, and you’ll have a right old laugh along the way.