Tuesday, October 04, 2011

When Bobby Met Dora Delaney: Fanny's First Play by GB Shaw at Pentameters Theatre

North Londoners are spoilt for fringe theatres, but I haven't met a homelier venue than the Pentameters, a couple of minutes walk from Hampstead underground station and attached to a popular pub.

The 60-seater space is straight out of Alice in Wonderland: like an untidy living room where children are about to put on a show. Three rows of chairs with a mix of cushions are ranged on steps opposite a shallow stage. Cardboard boxes under each seat apparently hold programmes from previous productions.

The stage set itself is sparse: a table with fold-down flaps and a lacy cloth, on which stands a tiny bell. Five Edwardian dining chairs with green velvet seats are set nearby. Dark, striped wallpaper and an oval mirror with an elaborate gilt frame complete the decor; in fact, the theatre's proprietor, Leonie Scott-Matthews, comes out at the start to apologise, explaining that Fanny's First Play is a touring production, and Pentameters' normal staging is usually more detailed. She reappears at the end, too - a charming personal touch, I thought.

Chatter drifts through from the pub's street tables during the performance, but that's alright, because the plot has a dinner party going on in an adjoining room. The pub is handy, too, on a warm night, except for the charge of £10 for two drinks and a packet of admittedly superior crisps. 'That Duvel is 8.5%,' remarked my companion, who stuck to the bitter. I balanced the bottle on the step beside me for the second half.

The relaxed atmosphere was superb, as was the play. One of the lead actors was weak, so I gave it four stars out of five in my review, but on reflection that was a bit mean.

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