In the Matchstick Piehouse theatre you’ll find yourself on the N89 London night bus following characters Kim (played by Grace Boyle) and Daniel (played by Ocean Harris) as they make their way home from a long day. Mark Daniels’ writing shines in its flow and charm which, accompanied with the comedic talent of the cast as a whole, creates a remarkably warm experience.
Every character has a distinguished identity which commands laughter at its many variations. From the American student having a cheerful mental breakdown to the lovable drunk man named ‘Dave’s Friend’ who chucks vomit across the linoleum floor (props to the believability of said vomit), each character is undoubtedly distinguished. Natasha Vasandani was unequivocally the most consistently engaging and hilarious. The performances are primarily naturalistic, which would connotate a reflective approach to our current social climate, however most of the characters are heightened stereotypes. The typical racist Brexiteer is overtly caricatured, to the extent the discourse of racism seems entirely undermined through its lack of believability. The m/m couple who begin as an adorably doting relationship descend into an oversexualised mess which totally panders to gay stereotypes – a poor choice in representation.
Regardless, the multi-roling is stellar and slick.
The set is rewardingly resourceful. The plastic chairs printed with bus-seat patterns coupled with projections from actual London routes constructs a believable environment for the cast to navigate. The bus monitor with perky commentary provides moments such as, ‘The play terminates here.’
There are some structural issues with N89 which undoubtedly interfere with the overall concept. For instance, the overarching heteronormative relationship established early in the plot seemed exceptionally basic in the scheme of creative approaches to theatre. There’s nothing revolutionary about a tale of male-meets-female before they grow attached and potentially attracted. Why should we be invested in something we have watched unfold hundreds of millions of times? I would rather something more provocative were the centre of such a play, as I feel the flare of the writing suits something greater.
The immersion is simple and often used without constructive purpose. You may be asked to carry a bag for an actor simply so you’re forced to show empathy to a character cradling a baby. Or perhaps you’ll be asked to call Daniel a ‘Nob’. It felt unnecessary in some aspects, however through trial and error I imagine the ad-lib and the audience participation may become more refined through heuristic measures.
As with a multitude of contemporary productions, the themes are wishy-washy and skim over depth in favour of covering more ground. From intersectionality to racism, motherhood to online dating, tangents about modern discourse are shallow and dissatisfying. I would far rather watch a piece of theatre which delves into political issues with emotional intelligence and grounding in research than one which tries too hard to fill space with unimportant chatter.
Perhaps my understanding of this piece is skewed. Perhaps it was meant to be more of an evocation of a sleepy bus journey, where a complete stranger transforms into an affectionate friend.