'Love Bites' review or 'Champers with just enough fizz.'

'Love Bites' (An evening of new plays)
Waterloo East Theatre, Tuesday 29th November

I'll admit I'm sceptical about new play nights. It's not that I don't have faith in new writers – Jesus, I spend half my life reading new plays – but I do lack faith in the format itself. More often than not, the most successful short plays in nights such as 'Love Bites', are light-hearted, limited skits. If a writer is ambitious or even obscure, they're often flummoxed by the format, with no hope of doing their big ideas justice in such little time and with such limited resources.

But 'Love Bites', although it's certainly no heavy-hitting night of bold new theatrical invention, isn't half bad. There are a couple of duds but, then, there always are. Quite why producers don't just scrap the crap is beyond me; I'd much prefer a night of three decent, new plays, rather than an evening watching endless, mediocre ones.

The successful plays keep things simple and pick characters with a spiky, unpredictable dynamic. Ziella Bryars' 'Down in One' focuses on a young lad and older lass, who have been friends all their lives. The lad is optimistic and horny and the lady, disillusioned and cynical. The actors spark well together and deliver Bryar's sharp gags with a flourish. Hannah James stands out as thirty-something Ellie and has a quirky, dry style, distinctive and mature.

Craig Donaghy's 'Sarah and Sarah' features an equally strong double act and, again, the writer has picked characters with an established but edgy dynamic. Sarah and Sarah shared their childhoods in Bradford until one of them moved to London. Now, Sarah has invited her friend to a party in London and a taste of her glamorous new life. Donaghy's impressive script is packed with neat observations and witty but grounded-gags, as the friends pick holes in each other's lives and circle around a massive bust-up: 'My horizons are broad – I get three buses to work.'

Daniel Frankenburg's, 'The Land of The Dragons', is really a piece of character comedy stand-up - and probably the best way to approach a showcase such as this. For once, there's real time to develop a detailed and believable character. Donal Coonan plays John, a finance geek who treated his girlfriend to a 'Lion King' marathon and still, miraculously, got dumped. Coonan performs at an assured, teasing pace and the script zips along nicely, aided by some rigorously structured, cleverly detailed riffs. Hell, Frankenburg even squeezes in a bit of pathos and his funniest lines are often rather sad: 'Without the love, I wouldn't have been able to stand her.'


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