The Kings Arms, Salford
Hen nights are regarded with condescension and horror by outside observers. Hyenas does not allow neutral observation as author and sole performer Olivia Nicholson drags the audience into the centre of the action becoming a bridezilla, a dominating Queen Bee, a mother desperate for a break and a timid wallflower.
Nicholson does not hide the nastiness underlying hen nights. Compliments are passive aggressive if not outright hostile—members of the audience are praised for how well they are coping with their extra lockdown weight. There is a powerful level of antagonism as the characters push for domination ordering each other around and demanding compliance with drunken norms.
The characters are played as grotesque exaggerations. Nicholson is done up as mutton dressed as lamb in a garish dress, her voice an annoying bray or timid whine. Her eyes are constantly moving around the room seeking someone more interesting or attractive. Drinks are slurped rather than sipped and everything is at full volume.
Just when you start to feel you are laughing at rather than with the characters, Nicholson makes a subtle change in tone. While she cannot make the characters appealing, she does explore the pressures which drive them to seek oblivion in excessive behaviour. A mother has to break off celebrating to co-ordinate over the telephone the administration of a medical injection for her child.
It is a fine line to tread as the scenes are horribly funny whilst also disturbing. A teacher losing control of her class to such an extent she becomes abusive and borderline violent seems hilarious until you appreciate how often such scenes come close to occurring in real life.
The growing comprehension of the desperate position of the bride-to-be, highlighted by tinnitus inducing sonics, is handled particularly well.
Nicholson’s examination of the rituals of female bonding finds unexpected dignity in the characters so they can be regarded as human and certainly not hyenas.
Hyenas is part of a value for money double bill with The Olive Tree reviewed separately.
Reviewer: David Cunningham