The White Bear pub theatre in Kennington is the latest home for nomadic theatre group KDC as they present a doubleheader of short plays: SHE and Stiff.

As Ynes Benotmane saunters into the simple but effective two-tone set, and begins describing her restaurant surroundings the audience can feel at ease that the form of the play is already established: narrative story, no fourth wall. What follows, however, is a clever and careful weaving of plots and form. What SHE does really well is slip effortlessly between twists and turns, snapping between narration and action and drawing us in with its non-linear structure.

SHE is compellingly performed by a committed, undulating ensemble of three – fluidly switching their roles. The audience is kept on its toes too: when one actor embodies a devil-on-your-shoulder style role a fresh tension emerges from the piece. If this sounds complicated – it isn’t. Testament to a strong cast and really tight direction from Sarah Beebe, SHE hurtles through its gripping plot with aplomb, keeping the audience guessing for the whole ride.

There are times in the middle of the play where the pace does drag slightly, and the acting can occasionally feel stuck at too high an intensity but you leave the first half of the evening having been engrossed and entertained – if not entirely fulfilled by the conclusion of this rollercoaster of a story arc.

Image: Carl Fletcher

In a satisfying piece of symmetry, the three women of SHE are replaced with three men in Stiff for the second offering of the evening.

The audience are kept waiting for the opening. Forced to survey health and safety posters, observe the way the office desk has been delineated into two and listen as Godsell (Keir Mills) irritably (and irritatingly) spins a pen off his teeth. It works. Before the play has begun we are already familiar with this The Office-like set-up; Daniel (Joe Callanan) flashes stern looks across at his colleague, disturbed from his novel. There is a deep well of comedy here which director Steph Urquhart has drawn from fully: Mills naturally inhabits the role, at ease meandering the stage, drawing a series of nicely understated, Martin Freeman-esque reactions from Callanan – and chuckles from the audience.

A play about two men tiredly running a morgue, Stiff shakes up our expectations when ‘Lonely’ (an utterly believable Graham White) arrives to drop off a recently deceased star of the silver screen. What follows is a central struggle between impulse and morals which carefully flirts with humour and disgust. Cleverly, the audience is made to feel this central dichotomy as much as the actors – at times I felt unsure as to whether this was funny anymore before being caught by another bizarrely hilarious moment. Urquhart deserves credit too: the world feels real, there are some deft touches in the set and props department and the sound and lighting transitions give the audience space to respond.

Stiff is a good piece of writing and we could easily have spent more time with these characters, but after a turn that has my entire row gasping in disbelief – perhaps it’s best we didn’t. This dark comedy performs well, managing to elicit howls of laughter and genuinely make the audience squirm – I really enjoyed it.

4/5

SHE and Stiff run at the White Bear Theatre until the 10th November

Images: Carl Fletcher

Matt is an alumnus of rival universities UCL and King's College London and, with degrees in Biochemistry and Cell Therapy, is also caught between rival passions of science and theatre. Acting includes 'NSFW' at the Edinburgh Fringe. Directing includes 'Rhinoceros' at the Shaw Theatre.

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