Lynne Miller as Ivy in the first of James Hogan's one-act plays Ivy & Joan, at Notting Hill's Print Room theatre
NOTTING Hill's intimate Print Room just got a lot more intimate.
The young theatre has expanded upstairs, opening a tiny 30-seat space for performances, after-show talks and more.
Two one-act plays, Ivy and Joan, marked the new venue's launch in suitably understated fashion last night (Tuesday, January 15).
Its big sister downstairs has tended to revive forgotten classics, often defying its size to stage epic and challenging works.
But the balcony venue - consisting of just 30 box-style seats, each with a blanket and hot water bottle - opened with two intimate sketches about a pair of women on the verge of a new life.
Ivy & Joan, two 40-minute, one-act plays by James Hogan, have a lot in common with Alan Bennett's Talking Heads.
Both are essentially one-woman plays, beautifully performed by Lynne Miller, with a mixture of pathos and humour.
Ivy is a brassy 60-something barmaid, fondly recalling the wartime adventures of her youth and her one true love as she prepares to leave the dingy hotel where she has spent most of her life.
Joan is a frustrated middle-aged woman, trapped in a loveless marriage, just back from a holiday in Venice where she got a glimpse of what life could be.
Both are heartbreaking tales, in which Miller's women delicately tread the tightrope between desolation and determination.
The former has a more comic air, but the gags often seem forced and it veers dangerously close to Talking Heads pastiche territory.
The latter is a much more accomplished affair. Dark and claustrophic, but with sharp humour, it is almost as uncomfortable as the backless chairs from which you watch.
The tension builds impressively, towards a literally shattering conclusion, as the audience is left to figure out precisely the relationship between Joan and her passive-aggressive husband.
It is a promising start for the new venue, quirkily kitted out with oddities like tables made from a sawn-in-half violin and coffee cups screwed to the ceiling - enough to suggest it has a brighter future than those of the two women with which it chose to take its bow.