Alex Galbinski reviews Henna Night at New Diorama Theatre

“I went to Boots today and I bought a packet of henna and some razor blades… I’ll either slash my wrists or dye my hair’. Either way, I’ll ruin my bathroom carpet.”

So begins Amy Rosenthal’s play that was originally performed in 1999 and is now showing at the New Diorama Theatre in London.

The words above are those of Judith (played by Hatty Preston), spoken on the answer machine of her ex-boyfriend Jack, but heard by Ros (Nicola Daley), his new live-in lover. Schoolteacher Ros comes to check on Judith – who also claims to be pregnant. The play then explores the hopes and dreams both have placed in a life with Jack, jealousy, friendship and life.

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Henna Night was penned by Amy Rosenthal, the playwright daughter of Maureen Lipman and the late Jack Rosenthal

We sympathise more with the more mature (‘dull and dependable’) Ros, than the ‘beguilingly wrongfooted’ Judith, whose comfort zone – and home – is now invaded by the woman who has stolen ‘the love of my life’.

The play, Rosenthal’s second, won The Sunday Times Drama Award in 1999. Directed by Peter James, it packs into its one act plenty of sharp observational one-liners (‘Jack couldn’t assemble a f******g kinder surprise!’, ‘is this fascinating soliloquy leading anywhere?’) and gently pokes fun at middle-class mores (of giving to charity through the purchase of a pizza).

Daley plays her role well; her shaky nervousness when arriving at the flat of her lover’s ex is palpable and draws the audience on to her side. Preston, too, is on form as the ‘kooky and chaotic’ Judith – particularly in the latter half of the play.

During the performance there develops an uneasy yet almost comfortable truce between the two women (“You came here tonight and you made me like you”) and Ros tenderly washes out the henna in Judith’s hair. It is easy to consider how a friendship might have been possible between the two in other circumstances.

This is a pithy play that is full of compassion about the opposing ‘sides’ of relationships – both romantic and otherwise. A great one to see, although it might appeal more to women.

Henna Night runs until Saturday, 28 June, at New Diorama Theatre. Tickets cost £12.50 (£10 concessions). For more details, visit: http://newdiorama.com/whats-on/henna-night