This new comedy by Len Pentin strikes me as a sort of theatrical version of Bridget Jones but suffers from an unfortunate state of events in that it is a decade late and not nearly as funny. The opening is facsimile to the film, we see a thirty-something single gin-swigging female in her apartment on New Year’s Eve singing along to Christmas tunes. The difference, we soon discover is in this story there are two protagonists – doubling the fun Pentin must have thought - flatmates who, when snowed in and forced to spend the evening together, make each other face the music and overcome their fears (in between rounds of drunk monopoly, much the same as normal monopoly but as the title suggests with much more alcohol involved). By New Year’s Day they emerge surprisingly sober and although not entirely fearless, ready to participate in and take charge of their lives once more.
Regrettably, director Benji Sperring missed a trick here; the lead up to the first line, with Angela Bull’s Wendy as the oversized pajama-wearing singleton moping around the flat is long, really long, really, really long (you get the picture) and for that amount of time the audience deservedly expect a payoff. The performance fails to deliver this payoff however and the main fault lies in the pacing. Although there are numerous laughs in the script, the timing is slightly off, a touch too slow prohibiting the natural rhythm of two friends’ chatter, and the consistent expectation of something more left me sorely disappointed.
The title itself is misleading, Fun Like Stalingrad evokes dark and twisted comedy, after all the Battle of Stalingrad was only the bloodiest in human history. This production is not dark, in fact the problems these girls have are hardly matters of life or death; while they aren’t exactly pleasant they are situations we all have to live through at some point or another. Not that I have a problem with light entertainment, in fact I am very much in favour of it but like most comedies the momentary bursts of flavour prove insubstantial here. What could have felt refreshingly real, after all who hasn’t struggled to take control of their life? Is a little bit stale, a story like this can’t work unless we feel unconditional affection for the heroine – in this case heroines – but the acting was uneven, perhaps it was first night nerves but Erica Lowe’s Lynn especially stumbled over a few lines. They both seemed to slip in and out of character although when at their most successful they were quite endearing.
A pub theatre, The Hen and Chickens is a great little venue, and the set, although perhaps not quite used to its full advantage, (slightly too much going in and out of view for my liking and a badly positioned mirror), did give the sense of the cozy claustrophobia necessary for getting the atmosphere right. The music, a little camp to say the least (from George Michael’s ‘Last Christmas’ to the classic ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’) successfully put the audience in the festive mood and in sum this a fun, frivolous experience for those expecting nothing more. There are some side-splitting lines and great use of an electric asp, ensuring the whole went down well with the audience who were in fits of laughter throughout.