Lockdown loosening has The North Wall hosting on stage this week an all-female cast in Half Baked, kneaded and glazed with jack-in-the-box speed by 00 Productions.
I'd half-forgotten what a stage looks like, so it was a double treat to discover an airy baker's shop with pine shelves by designers Sneha Bansal and Iris Chabriat – later turned cleverly into an art exhibition space. The wares looked so yummy I thought of the gingerbread house of Hansel and Gretel's wicked witch, and indeed the Bourne Bakery (prop. Hazel) turned out to have its own aspirants to that title in cocaine dealers, Chris and Tina, living upstairs. While Hazel battles with a dearth of customers, an assistant (Poddy Wilson) who prefers reading a SLEAZY JET headline in the paper to doing any work, and self-absorbed acting friends, our dealers are suffering the loss of their product to the village drains. We knew they should have stuck to to poppy seeds...
Writer Nina Jurkovic's satirical targets are lovey actors and thrown-together avant-garde art ('we need sculptures, so we knead sculptures!'), viz. 'The Fall of the Pastriarchy', a half-chewed biscuit! But this is high-spirited comedy rather than outright satire, so we were looking for plenty of laughs, quicksilver movement and repartee. Did we get them? Well, up to a point. The humour is primarily derived from character, rather than situation- or action-driven, and there was an upward zoom in energy and zaniness from the bakery to the later art show scenes, the transition marked by an inventive scene change and If I knew you were coming, I'd have baked you a cake, a jukebox favourite of the 50s.
The production's shortage of time on stage and Covid problems (a mention of earrings 'shaped like test tubes' sent my mind scurrying across to the Jenner Institute) were intensified at the 11th hour with new Government guidelines on actors' distancing, and I think that, with her director's hat on, Nina's management of the rather sluggish start and subsequent hesitancy of movement is very understandable.
Leah Aspden's slightly neurotic Hazel was a sympathetic portrait, though she sometimes tended to swallow her words. Her bathetic peroration from atop a packing case had her audience rapt at her chutzpah. Poddy Wilson was accomplished in voice and gesture, coming on strongly when compering the art show, but just lacked a bit of energy in the first half. Anna Coles' Vicki and Pip Lang's junkie/dealer Chris both lit up the stage whenever present. The latter was excellent in the surprisingly serious closing scene, demonstrating impressive versatility in a wholly different role from that in which she shone in Blink last week.
Any show in which producers Olivia Wheeler and Harvey Dovell have a hand more or less guarantees quality, so as the week goes on and a bit of inevitable rustiness drops away, Half Baked should pick up a bit of pace and movement, get a little more into the audience's faces and turn into a worthy addition to OUDS new comedy writing.