An intelligent and well-observed two-hander, Amy Rosenthal’s Henna Night has been around since 1998 and has enjoyed various outings including its premier at Chelsea Theatre in 2001. In this version Max Kirk directs two promising young actors: Gabrielle Nellis-Pain and Claire Lowrie.
Judith (Nellis-Pain) is utterly bereft in her flat, which is so untidy that we understand we should fear for her mental health even before we see her. Her life has fallen apart because her partner Jack has moved on and made a new life with Ros (Lowrie) who now calls on her in response to a desperate crie-de-coeur phone call. The play explores Judith’s initial angry hostility and Ros’s kind concern as the two women gradually, thawingly move towards what might, under other circumstances, have been a friendship. Judith is in the midst of dyeing her hair with henna. Ros, towards the end of the play, helps her to rinse it off and it’s really rather moving – not least because Rosenthal’s dialogue is so sharp.
Nellis-Pain finds warm anguish in Judith and makes sure that we feel, and sympathise with all that distressed fury. Judith is rarely far from tears but often gulps, finds some self control and makes cutting remarks. It’s a strong, nicely directed performance in which she communicates a great deal just by looking and thinking. There’s an entire “speech”, for example, in the expressions on her face during the hair rinsing.
Lowrie’s character, Ros, is a very different sort who manages to hold fast to her right to be with Jack while evincing real – but totally unpatronsing – sympathy for Judith. It’s a subtle balance and Lowrie gets right inside Ros so that it’s a deeply convincing performance. Both actors are very natural and they work impressively together – with plenty of that all-important listening to each other.
An enjoyable, quite gripping 50 minutes of theatre, then. It is sad, however, that the performance I saw attracted an audience of just 9 people. This is worthwhile work which deserves to be seen.