Jenna Kamal’s new play Sardines tackles loneliness in the big city by poking fun at London’s tube etiquette in this single act series of skits and monologues.
The cast of Jonty Weston, Alistair Hall, Aaron Peters, Alexandra Laurence, and Riana Duce, play a series of different London commuters who make the sinful decision to engage with fellow travellers in order to show us what is possible if we all took out our earphones, and put down our e-readers.
Some of the sketches work better than others, which is the case for the jokes too. Some of the funnier set ups are the ones visited more than once, for example a group of commuters trying to solve a riddle on a stationary train and getting increasingly daft with their guesses, and a busker who gets others to sing along. A scene with a newly expectant mother explaining her fears to a random stranger was well written too, and there were lots of clever lines dissecting the pros and cons of London life. A description of London being like a full belly after a great meal was nicely delivered. Lines are borrowed from elsewhere too – a Philip Levine poem, a Carl Sagan quote – but always to reinforce the same point.
The young cast deliver the jokes with energy and gusto, clearly enjoying being part of the ensemble and all doing a decent job. The small space at the Drayton Arms is used well with just half a dozen tube seats on wheels forming the set and being pushed around by the cast to create each scene.
Directors Alice Wordsworth and Erin Blackmore have done well to stage this as effectively as they have, with a high tempo and best use of their cast, but fundamentally the play is limited by a lack of substance or depth. Characters fly by so there is no time to invest in them, and a point about loneliness in the crowd is hammered repeatedly without any real analysis of what this means to young Londoners.
In the end this is mixed bag, genuinely funny in places, but not really tackling the issue it has chosen to focus on in a meaningful way.
Reviewed by Kris Witherington