An experiment in scale and ambition, The Miniaturists presented an evening of five short plays at the Arcola, a taster menu of drama where what's good is savoured momentarily and what's bad is gone quickly.
The score card stacks up in favour of the Miniaturists, 3-2. There were three very interesting plays, perhaps the best of which was For a Button, by Rachel Barnett, which tells of two friends who are almost obsessively close. When one meets the man of her dreams, what will the other do? If this sounds a bit Basic Instinct-esque, it is in the furious, roiling, passionate subtext - the overt signals are comic, but there is a lot going on beneath the surface about over-intimacy and possession. With a very well-staged climax, For a Button was a small treasure, and the rapport between Rebecca Everett and Daisy Brydon was layered.
The other two successes were a moving monologue - one half of a phone conversation with an ex-boyfriend - by Declan Feenan (What About the Rent?), the emotion of which was largely ruined by someone's loud mobile phone ringtone, which they kindly neglected to deal with, and Shelter by Hilary Bell, featuring a daughter who comes up with an odd plan to help her neglected, acting-out mother. By painting this pairing quite sparely, it allowed us a lot of space to imagine the true, difficult nature of the bond. Ann Firbank as the mother was dry yet wounded.
The spare quality of Shelter was distinctly lacking from A Late Goodbye and Cadillaxing. The former was the entire breakdown of a relationship and was intended to show off a great grasp of human psychology, I think, since the writer, Paul Chadwick, is a professor of clinical psychology, but really just showed a deaf ear to drama and language. There was nothing which has not been tackled infinitely more subtly even on television soap operas.
Cadillaxing (by Christina Balit) was a scene from Drunken Yobville, Kent. The characters were stereotypes, from their high-heel-short-skirt trashiness to their unsurprising revelations, which were in fact exactly the kind of revelation you'd expect.
These are in fact short plays, rather than works in progress, so I don't expect we'll be seeing expanded versions any time soon, but an evening with the Miniaturists has made me eager to discover more of these playwrights.