Review: Flights of Fancy at the Hen and Chickens

Theatre comes in many shapes and sizes. Far from being a clearly-defined medium, a show can be long, short, serious, silly – a journey into the unknown or a slice of life. A new writing night provides a bit of both.

Flights of Fancy is appropriately-titled, featuring five short plays that cover everything from modern technology to bawdy gardeners. Produced by actor and director Laura Román and her company Rebound, the night showcases the work of a promising new writer, James Mannion, whose talent for sharp comedy is evident throughout.

Powerless, one of five plays at Flights of Fancy. Photo courtesy of James Mannion (2019)

Powerless, one of five plays at Flights of Fancy. Photo courtesy of James Mannion (2019)

Mannion is at his best when exploring domestic tension and absurd situations, as shown by two of the stand-out plays, The Contract and The Patient. The former imagines a future of short-term marriage contracts with hilarious results. Actors Nassima Bouchenak and Nelson Ekaragha achieve a brilliant chemistry together, with Bouchenak’s brittle exasperation perfectly matched to Ekaragha’s charming obliviousness. The latter reveals Mannion’s strength at dry humour, showing what happens when a hypochondriac is given some good news for once – a fate that is, for him, worse than death.  

Cabbages, one of five plays at Flights of Fancy. Photo courtesy of James Mannion (2019)

Cabbages, one of five plays at Flights of Fancy. Photo courtesy of James Mannion (2019)

Other highlights include Cabbages, where an exchange between gardeners turns a little blue. Skillfully directed by Lizzie Fitzpatrick, this funny play has actors Wendy Fisher and Samantha Wright trading quips about courgettes and a hunky television presenter. It’s a delightful piece of ribaldry, and would not go amiss on a Radio 4 Sunday afternoon schedule.

It’s not all perfect. Some of the plays may feel a little too familiar, particularly to audiences accustomed to the tech-phobia of Black Mirror or millennial-baiting articles about how young people cannot switch off their phones. The plot of Honey, where an Alexa-style assistant falls in love with its owner, did not feel particularly original, while Powerless, a play about how young people can’t cope without electricity, wore out its premise very quickly.

Still, Flights of Fancy is definitely worth checking out – a pick and mix of light entertainment and quick satire that will surely please anyone looking for a break from the current state of affairs. I look forward to seeing what Rebound does next, and Mannion’s continued development as a gifted comic writer.