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Review: Vignettes at Hope Mill Theatre is ‘a mesmerising, binge-worthy production’

In a world where we can watch no end of dramas and comedies on TV, the choice is immense and you may find something really special like Succession and really lame like Obsession.

But either way, you can binge or wait for weekly episodes if that is how the show is aired.

Vignettes offers you the chance to binge six short plays in one night and this year the quality is extremely good. Part of the show’s success is the variety on display this time round.

As I sit and watch, now knowing what is coming next, I am reminded of camping holidays as a kid when I was allowed to have those mini breakfast cereals, one day it was cornflakes and the next it was Rice Krispies. I knew how to live!

First up is Bad Tash by Lekhani Chirwa and Tia Larsen has the unenviable job of warming the audience up and getting them involved.

Or does she? We are ‘her’ audience and it soon becomes clear that this is a beautifully realised play about mental health and neurodiversity.

Confessional, authentic and highly watchable, Larsen draws you into the narrative and with heartfelt honesty and vulnerability.

Blink and the Moon by Nikki Mailer explores the fragmented memories of a couple, as they navigate the rollercoaster ride that is their relationship.

Stefanie Hammoudeh and Sam Ebner-Landy are both excellent as the couple who finish each other sentences and not in a ‘rom-com’ way. This short is overly ambitious, as it does try to pack too much in.

But the dance at the beginning is mesmerising and highlights the impact of silence. And if the ending was changed, it could have a new life. It works better as something open-ended, as opposed to a full stop, as that would suit the non-linear aspects.

Alex Keelan’s Hope is a Thing with Feathers is a play of real beauty, as we follow sixteen-year-old Nina’s life. From college, she says she hates her home life which is tough and heartbreakingly real.

Leah Eddleston gives one of the performances that sits with you on the way home. I have taught girls like Nina and recognised her instantly, from her anger through to her need to be loved and noticed.

She talks about her boyfriend, not completely unaware of the fact that he uses coercive behaviour in the name of love and you want to step in and help. Perfectly pitched by Eddleston and incredibly raw writing by Keelan.

Following the interval Laura Harper’s The Darker Side of Birds sees an enigmatic Sarah White as Lisa, a woman who is saddled with a lying husband who is seeing someone else.

Far from a victim, Lisa is patiently watching and waiting and plotting to get him out of the nest. Enter bird watcher Rita who describes the habits of our winged friends to non-twitcher Lisa, as she becomes the cuckoo.

Funny, fresh and fast-paced – this has no loose ends or flights of fancy, it sings all the way through.

Steph Lacey’s Love Leftover is an exploration of grief and it begins with an ugly knitted sweater. But essentially it is the story of a family bond. Some of us say “I love you,” all of the time and others of us use it sparingly, it not at all.

Fiona Scott and Frankie Lipman have great chemistry as a mother and daughter and what looks like a normal conversation, ends in heartache, as the following day mum is not there.

Where this play works is highlighting the regret you face when dealing with loss. What you could and should have said and where will you transfer your love to, now that this person has gone?

All of this feels so familiar and it does move you. Because the play is so short, it could revolve around the jumper and Take That and lose the goat cheese skit and still have the desired impact, followed by that dreaded phone call.

Bones by Houmi Miura is the last short play and it is darkly comic and in terms of representation, something that you rarely see on stage. The setting is a Japanese funeral where tradition is key.

Throw in some Westernised grandchildren into the mix and everything is lost in translation for them, as they feel like fish out of water. At times I was reminded of the film The Farewell as the darkness and acerbic dialogue mask the fact that these characters feel lost and they lack a sense of belonging when they return ‘home.’ Adrianna Kei, Solaya Sang and Trisa Triandesa have great comic timing.

This is an excellent comedy to end the night. And Vignettes offers you proof that theatre can be binged and when it is this well-curated, there is something for everyone.

Vignettes is at the Hope Mill Theatre until 10th May and can be booked here.

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