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Stags and Hens: Review

Updated: Dec 4, 2021

Review by Nadia Ribot-Smith

The question, ‘Where are you from?’ demands as much scrutiny of the self as it does the location in question. No matter where ‘home’ is, one’s relation to their hometown elicits as nuanced a dynamic as those between people: the maps of ourselves are overlayed inextricably with the maps of our homes. Willey Russel explores this concept of origins, identity and belonging, through his 2-hour long play, ‘Stags and Hens’ which played for the first night tonight at the Stage@Leeds theatre.

The Theatre Group production follows the conflict of Linda (Grace Elcock), who on the eve of her wedding night, is forced to confront the idea of eternal commitment to her husband-to-be Dave (Oscar O’kane). To marry him is also to cement her loyalty to her hometown. ‘I don’t just marry Dave!’ she cries, as the looming deadline of the wedding day approaches. As her resolve disintegrates, her friends, Frances (Isabella Fletcher), Carol (Emma Wilcox), Maureen (Carrie

Clarke) and Bernadette (Lexi

All photos in this article by Abby Swain

Prosser) fumble to get her back on track, but her high school boyfriend Peter, now D-list Rockstar (Seb de Pury) appears as temptation, and a ticket out. Passed out in an adjacent bathroom, Dave’s groomsmen, Robbie (Harrison Hirst), Kav (Roan Pemberton), Billy (Charlie Crozier) and Eddie (Jamie Walker) take shifts looking after him, unaware of the events unravelling next door.

The play opens with an all too familiar scene, a congregation of drunken girls stumbling into a nightclub toilet. After a few minutes of successful exposition, the lights dim and relight over the right of the stage revealing our second set, the Men’s Bathroom. The events take place entirely in just these two locations, the scenes switching smoothly between one side and the other making for an engaging experience. It works wonderfully as a narrative device, providing a liminal space that allows us to directly contrast perspectives as the characters reveal a host of toxic attitudes, as well as their hopes, fears, and frustrations. There is something fantastically evocative about the set: it captures exactly the utilitarian functionality of a club bathroom towards the end of the night, complete with harsh, flickering strip lights, strands of soggy toilet roll and drunkenly scrawled phone numbers. But it also mirrors the bathroom’s familiar, intimate environment, which breeds uncharacteristic vulnerability and intimacy of emotion.

The play swings from comedy to drama capturing the emotional highs to lows that only club nights can have, culminating in the second act and viscerally reminds us all of the pervasive grimness of a night out that no one is enjoying. Carrie Clarke deserves a mention for her performance and is a total scene stealer, commanding the stage with energy and charisma. Every joke lands and she plays perfectly into the tone of the play bringing heart and depth as well as much-needed comic relief.

The play is overall an impressive incarnation of Wiley Russell’s vision. There were a few first show stumbles which will only strengthen throughout the 3-night run, and sometimes I wished they played a little harder into the themes of ingrained sexism that Russel highlights in his 70s setting, but these are not enough to destabilise an otherwise solid production. As all the characters fight to make their mark, Willy Russell’s fabulous play is a sensitive exploration of the identity as attached to location, and the innate desire to be known, to have value and to matter.

There are still a few tickets available for Saturday (30th).

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