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Half Baked review by Simon Jenner

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C Bliss Dini Half Baked, Rialto, October 16th 2017

There are very few plays with a core sweetness to warm with an equal measure of shrewd craft and open-heart naiveté. Chance Bliss Dini’s first play Half Baked, devised with the cast, is also directed with sound and lighting, co-produced by her and Daniel Stevens at the Rialto. Bright turquoise throws and clothes splash over the characters in the Rialto’s black space, and verismo squashed beer cans and cigarettes festoon its stage. The detritus is that of any young group not so much starting out as slobbing out.

This could be any dead town, though the writer hails from Somerset. This four-hander about a quartet of friends in various states of chassis, as Sean O’Casey puts it, starts with a collective snore room and sleepily gets to its feet. Olivia Sewell’s clear-voiced Sky, whose flat this is, is appropriately the most sorted, imminently to embark on some Europe jaunt, whilst her friends ostensibly vegetate in insularity. All’s not as it seems. Smart Tweak (Louis Heriz-Smith) the clever graduate has had it with dead-end stacking; painfully assiduous online applications might be about to tick off and pay off.

His friend Frankie, Sam Razvi’s giant piazza hole of a character, has flunked life since he left before his finals. He’s had the acumen to put a deposit on a caravan and a piece of field for himself and Tweak. He’s the generous purchaser of food, communally sourced in a circle of debt; but despite his laziness the character prepared to go the extra mile whilst he pretends he can’t walk a yard to join a young woman at a sofa. As for Elly Warboys’ Ellie, she’s played polo on a pony but has never got off her low horse, quitting four degrees and dreaming of… she’s not quite sure.

There’s ripe comedy in the emergent quartet’s reveille, like something out of Withnail and I without the more hideous kinky dirty sinks or indeed egos to disfigure it. The characters are well-drawn, well-inhabited, and wholly believable. The first act’s great moment arrives – via a Final Notice that panics Sky till she realizes it’s too overdue to matter – as an invite for all of them to attend a gig by the first ginger rapper.

During this episode, we see the mildly glammed quartet break into duettings where Frankie’s Chekhovian yearning for a caravan to prove success and security in life counterpoints Tweak’s more practical, singular dreams. Tweak’s simply going to succeed. Frankie, a warmer more dependant character whom Sky’s attracted to despite or because of his flatline ambition, seems set on a downward trajectory from his lawyer grandfather bucking the trend of generations of layabouts.

Though the play’s around seventy minutes, it’s divided by an interval; and needn’t be. The second act is indeed shorter and firmer, describing an arc the first hints at in a more picaresque manner. That part might be compressed or more swiftly acted. The second act has a phone call that as it were occurs twice in two different scenes. It should be simultaneous and the characters too: little details of craft like this will crisp up Half Baked admirably.

The two boys alone in a delicious take on bonding (‘revenge of the monster clitoris’) are horribly well observed. Ellie’s prickings of Tweak’s conscience, her own duet with Sky, give Warboys’ dipsy persona purchase on her perishable dreams. She managed a C in GCSE Dance, was regarded as ‘erratic’ which she feels is halfway there: she’ll try for a degree in Dance, then. Her sudden erudition noting academic bias indexes in dissertations to Sky, arises mildly out of her dipsy persona. Bliss Dini means us to see Ellie’s smarter than she acts, though hints are confined to rich-girl nostrums.

Sky is the most resolved and yet conflicted. Unlike Tweak, she has compunctions abut disappointing people including herself. Sewell well conveys her determination as well as a flickering sensitivity thrust finally into her backpack. She  makes her exit only after things come to a head with Frankie and an epilogue where they all reunite. There are naturally revelations.

This is an admirable first play: full of heart, wit and conversational truth, it carries enough vestigial wisdom to make us wonder what life, not Bliss Dini and her cast, will do with thee four. Performances are warm and truthful too. Sewell’s clarity – and subtle looks of anxiety and horror – helps show the pace the play could go at. Warboys is appealing and her character cleanly delineated; she too moves well. Razvi’s a gloriously orchestrated mess, as he would wish; though vocal projection of his mutterings would help the clarity of his conception. This is truest of Heriz-Smith who neatly skewers the post-geeky student, though speaks through lint.  Vocal training’s essential if this work is to go forward with the present cast.

Most of all, this is an assured debut by Bliss Dini as director, co-producer, co everything – the lighting was neatly cued and on occasion subtle. She’ll discover perhaps even more about the play and her directing if she hands over the reins to another director and comes back to it as a Martian. Both she and the script can take this, and prove it has at least eight legs.

Half Baked

This is an admirable first play: full of heart, wit and conversational truth, it carries enough vestigial wisdom to make us wonder what life, not Bliss Dini and her cast, will do with thee four.

Chance Bliss Dini and Daniel Stevens

Rialto

http://www.rialtotheatre.co.uk

Chance Bliss Dini’s first play Half Baked, devised with the cast, is also directed with sound and lighting, co-produced by her and Daniel Stevens at the Rialto.