Review: Cold Chips

2 star rating
Glosses over important issues in a sugary concoction that has the feel of a dated sit-com and fails to capitalise on the obvious strengths of its cast.
Cold Chips at Theatre N16

Image: Theatre N16

Theatre: Theatre N16

Closes here: Thursday 27 September 2018

Isabelle Stokes

Alexandra Brailsford


Olivia May Roebuck - Ella

Hippolyte Poirier - Ryan


'Cold Chips' is a heart-warming story of two best mates, Ella and Ryan, who seek comfort in each other to find their way in life.

A starlit bench reserved for two and a bag of chips each - every Friday evening is the same.

Fending for themselves and attempting to 'adult' proves more difficult than they would like.

When you've got no job and no money, like Ryan, life doesn't seem too bad when you can have a laugh with your best mate.

'I always envisioned my ultimate career goal would be to compensate people for their over ripened avocados ...'.

Through humour and playful banter, 'Cold Chips' highlights the challenges young people face in today's economy; growing up yet still living with parents and struggling to find a job when you don't have the experience for the job that needs experience.

But there comes a time when they need to stop pretending.

Acting like everything is OK works for a while, but not forever.

Ella and Ryan are thankful to be in the same boat, with someone that will hold that oar and row for them, when it gets too heavy.

ActDrop reviews

Cold Chips

Performance date: Tuesday 25 September 2018
Review star rating image

Isabelle Stokes' new play latches-on to some highly relevant issues that certainly deserve exploration through theatre - and, more importantly, some immediate and extensive policy adjustments in the political and economic arenas.

Zero hours contracts, lack of decent employment rights, high rents for poor quality housing, few opportunities to acquire skilled, rewarding employment, pay-day loans with unbelievable interest charges ... the list goes on.

Somewhere along the way - effected by a bill for austerity which landed on the doorstep of those least able to pay - the economic and political system has failed whole swathes of our citizens and not just those (as the characters here) in the early stages of their working lives.

Ms Stokes' play, then, has considerable potential to illuminate some of those issues and describe their impact on real people in gritty, uncompromising terms.

You'd think that would include angry, if not rebellious characters straining at the leash to get their voices heard to try to change a system that is clearly not working for them and many others.

But there's little anger on display from either character in what turns out to be a rather sugary concoction that has more the feel of a dated sit-com, flavoured as it is with a surfeit of rather syrupy music.

This is a play largely about struggling acceptance and friendship rather than angry rebellion in the face of an economic system that exploits individuals rather than enabling them to share in its success.

It takes a while to get a handle on just what the relationship is between the two characters - Ella and Ryan.

At first, I wasn't sure if they were related or not, but it eventually transpires they are long-term best pals.

There's quite a difference though in their understanding of reality.

Hipployte Poirier's twenty-five year-old, unpretentious and rather laid-back Ryan has gone through a series of jobs and managed to get fired from all of them in pretty quick order, leaving him in spiralling debt.

Olivia May Roebuck's Ella is employed and impossibly practical - suggesting that one's income has to be divided with a third going to savings, but doesn't explain how to manage that.

Ryan has a dim view of romance, explaining to Ella that none of the men she stalks is really interested in her.

Ella claims, not unreasonably (but a little cloyingly) that she just "wants to be loved".

However, a twist in the closing stages involving Ella's mother seemed to convey us abruptly into quite different territory, even if it added a new layer to Ella's unduly practical character.

In a way, one could look at Cold Chips as simply a tale of pals struggling to survive economically, and maintain their friendship in the process.

Perhaps that is Ms Stokes' intention rather than a more vigorous examination of the issues she raises.

On that level, though, the play is merely blandly unremarkable with mild humour, laced with over-used, scream-inducing references to 'chips'.

However, both Hippolyte Poirier and Olivia May Roebuck demonstrate in their confident performances that they have innate talent and skill in abundance.

And that leaves a sense of disappointment that the actors' qualities are not fully exploited to analyse more effectively the difficulties their characters face.

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