Never Have I Ever

Deborah Frances-White
Chichester Festival Company
Minerva Theatre, Chichester

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Susan Wokoma as Adaego Credit: Helen Murray
Susan Wokoma, Alex Roach, Greg Wise and Amit Shah Credit: Helen Murray
Helen Murray Credit: Amit Shah, Greg Wise, Susan Wokoma and Alex Roach

Oscar Wilde is said to have hidden his most subversive and challenging dialogue under the guise of laughter, and Frances-White’s hilarious and screamingly funny play follows that theme. I found some of the shrieking laughter from the audience a bit excessive and distracting, but this excellent cast never lose their focus for a moment.

Designer Frankie Bradshaw has created a stunningly authentic and very detailed set of a smart boutique restaurant in East London where the owners Kas and Jacq, trying to predict the taste of their potential customers, got it badly wrong and they are now facing bankruptcy (or ought we to say ‘insolvency’). To make matters worse, one of their old university friends invested heavily in their venture and the couple are nervously preparing a lavish meal to entertain him and his wife before giving them the bad news.

When the confession comes and they have to admit to failure, it all goes surprisingly well. Friend Tobin regarded the money as an ‘investment’ which always carries some risk, so he was quite happy. His wife, Adaego, is not concerned as she always keeps her money separate (wise woman). Before the place is sold, says Tobin, we might as well sample the contents of the cellar and, as bottle after bottle emerges and the night progresses, they all get riotously drunk with crazy wild dancing and much laughter, the flaring flambé flames acting as startling punctuation marks between each scene. It is the introduction of a drinking game which halts the fun and causes problems. “In Vino Veritas” and the truth reveals secrets which have been hidden for years.

It emerges that Kas, Jacq, and Adaego once engaged in a ‘threesome’ when at university, something which is a shock to Tobin, and he defensively decides the only answer is to even up the score with a most outrageous suggestion, which even, for a moment, shocked the audience enough to change shrieking laughter to horror. When he offers to pay, then the action becomes a knife-edged dilemma—will she or will she not, hanging in the balance. Well you have to see the play to find out!

Director Emma Butler keeps the action whizzing along at a tremendous pace, switching from pathos to indignation, from hilarity to indignant denial all in the blink of an eye.

All four characters are played with total conviction and so convincingly that I felt I would have liked to delve into their past lives and ask questions. Did Susan Wokoma’s Adaego suffer from racism and abuse before becoming this powerful, rich, confident black woman? Is Greg Wise’s Tobin happy to be a "straight white man" who is "just a little woke"? How did Amit Shah’s Kas really feel about his partner having sex with another man, and when did he embrace feminism so completely that he regarded it as her own body to do as she wished? As for Alex Roach’s Jacq, at what stage did she realise she was bisexual and was she more feminine than she realised?

Well that’s the theme for another play perhaps, and if it can keep up to this standard, then I can’t wait.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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