The Smallest Hour review: Hybrid vehicle that could have been improved

THEATRE

THE SMALLEST HOUR ★★★

Susie Youssef and Phil Spencer star in The Smallest Hour.Credit:COPYRIGHT>>BrettBoardmanPhotography2016

SBW Stables Theatre, December 7

Is it a play? Is it a duologue? Is it stand-up comedy? No, it's a hybrid: part play, part anecdote of the type where two raconteurs keep interrupting each other to tell you what really happened. Devised and performed by Phil Spencer and Susie​ Youssef​, and directed by Scarlet McGlynn (for Griffin Theatre Company), The Smallest Hour has an innate charm. It's there in the smallness of its ambition, the detail of its observation, and the fact that the two performers – who function almost exclusively as narrators rather than actors – are the protagonists in a love story so soft it would purr if you stroked it.

They are Chris and Shelley, old friends, or perhaps ex-lovers, who bump into one another at a hens'-night party in a pub, where Shelly is a guest of the bride-to-be, and Chris, stuck for a buck, is a stripper dressed up as a cop. It's the tale of a night out in Sydney (yes, far-fetched, I know, when the streets are impassable), but the writers have some fun in sending up the near-bare cupboard that passes for entertainment in this dysfunctional city.

Their two points of view are prisms bending the light that is gradually shed on events. The writing tends to be at its best when not in the first person, but about others, whether the woman behind the bar, a cab driver, or, most tellingly, an old man who becomes a recurrent character; who turns the play on its head, and makes the comedy metamorphose into wistful tragedy.

Yet the piece could be so much better, were there more of the fine eye for detail (like the dripping of a garden hose that that breaks a poignant silence), and were more made of the potential effect of mood shifts. It's held back by the unevenness of the writing and performances. A swirling poeticism​ is too often mired in a vulgar scramble for cheap laughs, or the satire trips over lame lines that should have been expunged. Spencer and Youssef​ are capable of commanding attention, but they are equally capable of losing it with performances that feel half-baked, as though the show lacked the requisite development and rehearsal time, despite being only 65 minutes. Still, there are some delightful moments.

Until December 15.

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