Don't count your chickens until opening night, but Hatch 'elicits laugh and laugh'
Arriving at the Beanbag Cinema on Donegall Street in Belfast we first have to find our way in. The venue is a hive of busy workmen shifting vast sheets of plywood. They're kind enough to point us through the obstacle course, though at our own risk.
The lack of signage might signify that Hatch is aimed at a 'usual crowd' who know the ropes. Today they're mostly women in their 30s.
Though the Beanbag Cinema provides folding chairs for those with less firm backs, audiences are invited to seat themselves on the bean bags that give the venue its name. They're bright red and soothingly womb-like. Or is it the mellow jazz murmuring in the background?
While we choose our seating, three well-padded ladies on stage perch cosily in their blankets. Hatch is a sort of Ulster Ab Fab, albeit set – as the piped dawn chorus and lowing cattle suggest – in the countryside.
While the youngest of the three characters, Deirdre (Mary Lindsay), ogles her 'Glass Half Full' guide to self-actualisation, the other two read trashy magazines and gossip about an unnamed but not unrecognisable celeb and her philandering footballer husband.
'With all that money, she still couldn't get a proper spray tan,' Maureen (Emma McEarlean) clucks, and Rhonda (Moninne Dargan) agrees. They dream about being famous themselves, the epitome of which would be to have a Louis Vuitton bag, especially one named after them.
The threesome live in the barn of farmer Hugh, and unbeknownst to them they are taking part in a Big Brother-like experiment. The elder two are a bit bored, whereas Deirdre insists that she's 'in stillness!'.
She's a self help and organics enthusiast, perhaps to suppress a traumatic childhood experience. She longs to experience 'having her comb pulled back'. The others assure her that, especially the first time, it's nothing to write home about. 'Tension mounting, him mounting, and then nothing,' they summarize.
Maureen and Rhonda complain about their age and that things aren't as they used to be, especially since Louise came to the farm. She's foreign, she's different, she doesn't move her head when she walks. All that money it took to bring her to the barn! And the media attention! They find it all very upsetting.
They may have dreams of fame and designer handbags, but shrink back when that glamorous fantasy confronts them and gets within their reach. It clashes with their core belief that, 'when you find your place you stay put and don't ruffle your feathers'. Enter Louise. She is a sexy chick, with a breathy French accent, a perky hat and a swanky rolling suitcase.
The programme bills Hatch as 'set in post-conflict Belfast'. Don't let that spectre of gloom put you off, the play really is very funny, eliciting laugh after laugh from the audience. It is never complacent and, under direction from Bruiser's Stephen Beggs, the staging is inventive, with some big surprises.
If there is one gripe with the play, it's that at a very fast 40 minutes it's over all too quickly. What with clambering in through the empty gallery and then exiting through the back door into an alley, the dressings of a full-length play that help to create a sense of occasion are missed.
Of course it's great that Hatch is staged as part of the Belfast Fringe Festival, but we wonder whether it's actually found its true audience. With its small cast and 'fits in the car boot' sets and props, Skewiff Theatre Company would do well to bring Hatch's agenda to community groups and schools.
Hatch will be performed at the Beanbag Cinema on Friday, October 21 at 8pm and on Saturday, October 22 at 2pm and 8pm.