Freya McCorry

Review: SAFEHOUSE at The Hen and Chickens Theatre

On a dark and decidedly autumnal Friday night in Islington, a group of us scurry in from the cold into the warmth of The Hen and Chickens pub, where upstairs lives a small 54 seater theatre; currently the home of Unrestricted View festival, and this night the second showing of Liam Scanlon’s new play Safehouse, directed by Laura Rinati.


The play opens to a bare stage, where two men loiter awkwardly, exchanging biting remarks about a new gay play they’d just seen that they both found simply terrible (cue chuckles from the audience). Over the next two hours, we lean into their lives through an uncomfortable, fairly forced first date littered with catty comedy and broadly sweeping statements about London as a home; its place as a city, the desirable and desperately lonely anonymity, and the struggle of young men finding their feet in a place they’ve spent their lives running to. There’s reference to a common feeling on arrival into the great smog of London; excitement at the rush of energy, the feeling of potential charging through the streets, and a sense of finally being somewhere you can be accepted; and yet, you are painfully alone.

The piece really comes into its own in the second act; the first takes a while to get moving, and the vague references to “chillouts” are met with a chilling sense of something not being quite right. Cut to act two and we are part of one- the silk-robed Swede answers the door and welcomes us into a house of “fun”, where EDM, faux fur throws and copious amounts of drugs invite us into what feels vaguely nightmarish, especially with the stiff shoulders of our two male leads stubbornly refusing to drop. The feeling of discomfort is strong; though Liam Scanlon’s writing throws constant gags to the audience (which were rowdily well received), the overriding feel of the play is the sense of being lost; and what lengths people will go to to feel loved, welcomed, and most of all, held.

Laura Rinati’s direction keeps the dynamic between the three actors entertaining and fast paced, and there is a moment in the second act where we really do feel part of it all- we want the party to intensify against our better instincts, and when it does, we feel the sinking regret alongside the cast. There is an over-lingering of the characters near the end and some moments that are rushed through- but this feels fitting to the theme of the piece, and there is strength in its poignant moments between the charismatic, slightly too charming Dan played strongly by Yannick Budd and introspective Blake (Brian Law).

Despite the laughs and welcome moments of heightened, absurd comedy from Liam Scanlon’s host Lucas, when the music stops and the drunken audience members quieten, all that remains are three broken men, half naked and curled up like children, desperate to find a way to heal. Safehouse is an intimate portrait of modern gay culture in certain parts of London, but when the party’s over, we’re left to wonder- if these are really the places these men feel safest, where do we go from here?