Students will typically stay up chatting long into the small hours with their friends and then, many years later, they might wake alone in the small hours, wondering what has happened to all of their friends. Anna Jeary’s new play uses considerable narrative skill to convey this nostalgia and melancholy. “Small Hours” is currently established at C Nova; Jasmine Price and Talor Hanson play two students whose friendship is at its brightest after night has lowered its wings.
There are two armchairs on stage and each student faces the audience. Gradually, we realise that they are facing each other and, moreover, that theirs is not a single nocturnal conversation. The light intermittently dips and pools, skipping the girls back to ever earlier chats. It is as if somebody is shuffling through memories of their student days and indeed, once we have finally made out the shape of the play, this is in essence its structure. In the present, the girls are irrevocably women and they are apparently discussing a story, or a play-outside-the-play, in which Price’s character has erroneously represented Hanson’s. It becomes evident that so many of the writer’s memories have been themselves a story, or rosy to the point of outright fiction.
There is a conspiratorial French and Saunders silliness to the original dynamic between the girls, a cosy intimacy which is symbolised on stage by the armchairs that contain them. I have also never seen a comedy which features quite so much insistence about tea without including Mrs Doyle. Oh but these actors have broken our hearts! We thought that they were having as much fun as us during the fun part of the play, but all of the time they were as cold as serpents. Day has turned to night: a story which was massively relaxed has become a bundle of nerves; a play about friendship has become one about loneliness; and two friends have effectively become a single, querulous voice.
The key to “Small Hours” is its studious absence of drama. The fading of old friendships is a part of the human experience which is rarely chronicled on stage, at least when compared to the conventional heartbreak which people spend all of their days thinking about, but it is just as universal, perhaps even more so. The pain is both gentler and keener. It is a sorrow which seldom comes to you but when it does, in the small hours, it can seem huge.