Review: Jay, Hen & Chickens Theatre

“Were we having an argument? I thought we were having a baby.”

Without a doubt, Eleonora Fusco deserves the attention that she received from the Papatango New Writing Prize and the BBC Writers Room this year for Jay. While this production at the Hen & Chickens Theatre is not perfect, it gives vital space for her script to be heard.

Wanting to write a review worthy of this play means avoiding the excited self-indulgences I’d like to bring up, such as my own play about a gay couple and depression that also features a character called Jay, or the fact that I’m on Prozac, or how much I recognise myself and those I love in Jay. What deserves attention here is Fusco’s creation of a humane, acerbic and sensitive play which avoids falling prey to the white feminism which I was concerned it might after hearing the panel of the podcast ‘The Guilty Feminist’ discussing the announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor playing as the audience enters. Jay is always relevant, sharp, and pulls its punches.

As couple, Jay (Flora Nesbit-Dawson) and Alex (Fusco) attempt to negotiate their relationship and the depressive pits in which they find themselves by way of having a baby and we see the ‘Prozac Dreams’ (Lee Anderson and David Rowley) that result. We watch as they, and Mari-Ange Ramirez as Andrea, squabble, grasp at each other and take turns in filling each other full of responsibility-related shame. Fusco herself is not an assured actor, but realising that she’s the playwright enables the audience to gather from her performance how she envisions the character, and from there, the play. By the time we reach a time skip in the narrative, my investment in the story easily outweighed any misgivings.

Though the production would also benefit from more efficient scene transitions, Nisbet-Dawson is a responsive and natural actor and Ramirez is also full of conviction. I didn’t find the concept of Prozac Dreams either a stroke of genius or a detriment to the play; Fusco’s script is most delightful when it’s on the three women. By the end, Jay manages to present us with an impressively original dynamic, which is engrossing to watch as it affects the characters’ movement around each other as they are forced into expressing the tensions between them in ways we’re not used to. Less than halfway through the show, I already knew I’d be approaching Fusco afterwards. This show should not be missed.

Jay is playing at the Hen & Chickens Theatre until October 28.

Photo: The Lettuce Dream Theatre Company