Hold Me Close plays at the Canal Cafe Theatre in Little Venice as part of the Camden Fringe. Located above the Bridge House pub, the audience settles into the cabaret-club-style seating of little, round tables in front of a proscenium arch. This really suits the form of the play which involves much audience interaction and an off-the-cuff style.
The structure of the play is very well done and I feel consistently entertained and engaged as a result. A wheel (that would suit an old-fashioned, garish game show) is spun to select a memory crucial to Jade and Sophie’s friendship. Jade (Elspeth McColl) and Sophie (Ella McCallum) delve into it using monologues, duologues or discussing something tangentially related. However, quite often the scenes are too tenuously linked to the chosen topic. I find it hard to always know exactly what is going on and this highlights a fundamental problem with the play.
Had I not read the summary of the play beforehand, I am not sure I would understand Hold Me Close’s premise at all. I really struggle to see how the play is seriously tussling with the end of a long-term friendship. It’s an exciting idea: two performers somewhat autobiographically exploring their own relationship as they actively decide to bring it to a close. Unfortunately, this idea is not established strongly enough at the start and instead the play becomes a slightly aimless tour of Jade and Sophie’s friendship. At the end, they discuss their differences — Jade does not have a mum, Sophie does; Jade doesn’t want to go to university and Sophie does. It doesn’t make sense though that this necessitates breaking up their relationship and I honestly leave feeling a little baffled.
The use of materials throughout the play is undeniably good. Alongside the fantastic gameshow wheel, they use projection, lip-sync to a clip of Danny Dyer on Why Do You Think You Are? and dance choreographed routines together. The set is messy and chaotic which echoes the girls’ personalities well. It also manages to make them look comfortable and at home when acting out stories set in both friends’ houses and pubs. Meticulous attention to detail has to go into making ‘messy’ look good and Hold Me Close’s designer certainly has that.
Some of the stories that Jade and Sophie share are absolute show-stoppers and I burst out laughing at several moments — a story about a dog licking up some bodily fluids is a serious highlight. This points to there being real sincerity and courage in the writing, but sadly I don’t think the play’s purpose or its performance quite matches up. There are moments where I can barely hear McColl and McCallum as they throw out flippant remarks or interact with the audience. The show also requires a really dramatic and confident style of delivery and the two actors just don’t commit enough, making me cringe and feel that I am not in safe hands. DArcy Brown as director needs to push the actors to reach their full potential because Hold Me Close is just oh so close to being a fun, eye-catching and sensitive show about female friendship.
Hold Me Close played Canal Cafe Theatre until 29 August 2021. For more information, see the Canal Cafe Theatre website.