Tag Archives: HUNCH theatre

“Pass The Hat” at Stone Nest

Lots of us read -and reflected – more than usual during the Coronavirus lockdown. And many, including Oliver Bennett and Vladimir Shcherban of HUNCHtheatre, took that strange time to create (in this case) something very special. The finest of storytelling, full of humour and insight, Pass The Hat proves to be quietly profound.

The book Bennett and his director Shcherban focus on is Farewell Leicester Square, a biography by a famous busker called Harry Hollis. As you might expect, after telling us about himself as an actor, Bennett slips into the character of Hollis and the result is charming. Both Bennett and Hollis have an avuncular charisma and a sweet sense of humour. They share a love of performance for its own sake that is stirring.

The reason for Bennett’s interest in Hollis is a potential family connection. Cue some genealogical detective work (another lockdown pastime). Looking into his grandparents’ lives, there are tangents – some of them dark. It turns out the dates don’t line up. Why the family myth, and why does it matter?

Pass The Hat from HUNCH Theatre credit Valya Korabelnikova

Stories are ways to structure our lives; to “fashion some kind of order”. That this telling can be a beautiful thing, despite shadowy motives, becomes clear with Pass The Hat. Deceptively straightforward, the show uses projections, props and puppets with a light touch. And some of the simplest yet most effective lighting you could wish for. Above all there is Bennett’s performance: using every inch of this intimate space and Vera Reshto’s design, he dances and fights back and forth through history. There’s even a shipwreck!

It is very easy to watch Bennett during this hour-plus piece. That gentle humour, with phone calls interrupting the action, helps. It’s a blissful surprise to realise how caught up in these plays on memory we have been guided through. A moving finale focusing on his grandfather’s dementia enforces how fragile the tales we tell ourselves are. It is compensation that storytelling is so safe in HUNCHtheatre’s capable hands.

Until 8 April 2022


Photos by Valya Korabelnikova

“The Legend of the Holy Drinker” at the Vault Festival

It’s a bit of puzzle as to how political HUNCH Theatre wants its adaptation of Joseph Roth’s novel to be. Efforts are made to establish the story of Andreas, a homeless alcoholic immigrant, in the here and now. But the story itself is close to a fable, with timeless qualities that fight with rooting it in London in 2020. Working with this tension, a talented team has created a thought-provoking show full of theatrical invention.

You have to suspend disbelief. A series of “miracles” mean that Andreas is gifted cash – only to drink it away again and again. It takes us to big issues about charity, alongside which the text engages with religious themes. Just as impressive is the central role – a complex, naturalistic, character despite being within such a fantasy. Andreas has plenty of faults so that it’s (too) simple to condemn what he does with his life, let alone the donations. But he is also easy to understand. With the desire to be “honourable”, the balance between circumstances and victimhood are deftly explicated. It’s a fine line walked by Oleg Sidorchik, who takes the lead role with great skill: he has to be a stage drunk, something of a clown, a man manipulated by his own jealousy and prone to violence, but with a moving back story, good intentions and weaknesses. Sidorchik manages to convey it all – bravo.

Similar praise is deserved by the whole cast – Oliver Bennett, Ed Davis, Emily Houghton and Eva Mashtaler – as this is a true ensemble piece. Acting as narrators as well as extra characters, they create a special atmosphere for the story: elevating its simplicity with a sense of fun. Bennett commands attention from the start – opening up questions about the motivation of the businessman who hands out cash. Both Houghton and saxophonist Davis manage to inject humour with the smallest lines and gestures, while Mashtaler proves impressive on a Segway… while she is performing as the sculpture of a saint.

Yes, that’s right, The Legend of the Holy Drinker, which includes a starring role for Saint Teresa, has many surreal, possibly alcohol-fuelled, moments. And they lead to a lot of memorable theatre. Director Vladimir Shcherban forefronts the movement skills of his cast, uses sound effectively, and has a brilliant eye for the simple use of props. What the team achieve with some plastic sheeting, cardboard boxes and coloured umbrellas is great. And it’s also appropriate. Such refined theatricality via lo-fi methods parallels that tension between complexity and simplicity – impeccably balanced by an intelligent and careful company.

Until 2 February 2020


“A Hero of Our Time” at the Arcola Theatre

Director Vladimir Shcherban, of Belarus Free Theatre fame, only founded HUNCHtheatre in May this year and already has a hit with this startling adaptation of Mikhail Lermontov’s 1839 novel. Inspired by the Russian literary great’s experimentation, Shcherban stages only part of the book and isn’t shy of crazy touches, balancing Romanticism with modernism. In a romantic competition between military men for a princess, exaggerated passion and masculinity may be mocked, but the “passions, yearning and regrets” Lermontov explores are present and correct.

Oliver Bennett, who adapted the text with Shcherban, takes the part of Pechorin. The role is a fantastic creation that’s full of contradictions. Possessing a “rare sagacity”, Bennett does justice to the character’s epigrams, then drops cynicism for soul-searching in the blink of an eye. Bennett is a verbal virtuoso, delivery a manic narration that combines angst and deadpan humour. Pechorin’s competition is Grushnitsky (well, he’s outclassed from the start, really) played wonderfully by James Marlowe, who matches Bennett’s physicality throughout and gives the character great depth. Taking bites out of a lemon is the least of these guy’s achievements – and it’s more apposite than you can imagine.

The two women in the piece are played by Scarlett Saunders: Pechorin’s mistress, depicted with delicious faux-sophistication, and Princess Mary, whose attention the men fight over. Saunders is especially impressive if you consider that most of the time she’s reacting to the men’s descriptions of her character. This is an insistence that shows Shcherban’s brave grasp on his text; what we might consider a sexist shortcoming in the original is preserved to be lambasted.

As the fight for Mary develops from jest to deadly earnest, whether either man cares for her is carefully left open. Mary’s actions just have to fit with their strategy. A witty segment that has a film of Saunders lip-syncing to Whitney Houston is a case in point – it gives rise to a discussion about Kevin Costner’s status (clever, but might I suggest Britney Spears’ Toxic would have been good, too?). Of course, none of Lermontov’s characters come out of their adventures as heroes but, importantly Mary’s fate is highlighted with appropriate sadness. Along with its humour, a particularly sour taste emanates from the show’s finale – Shcherban has cooked up a wonderfully flavourful piece.

Until 15 December 2018


Photo by Oleg Katchinsky