Henna Night is a touching conversation between two women who are hypothetically at odds with each other. Their unlikely encounter turns from civility to accusation to finally an intimate realisation that what initially makes them enemies can easily make them friends. The thin line that separates the two is crossed within an hour in Amy Rosenthal’s humble yet enlightening exploration of female relationships.
What would you do if you ran into your current partner’s ex? Or your ex’s current partner? Would the awkwardness abound until you excused yourself or would fists go flying? Jude (Claire Cartwright) is Jack’s recent ex, who leaves a desperate message on his answering machine suggesting suicidal tendencies and a possible pregnancy. What Jude gets in response is Ros (Annabel Norbury), Jack’s current girlfriend who comes to Jude’s flat in hopes of solving the matter. The women are clearly opposites, Jude - reckless sarcastic and hurt, Ros - pristine, matter of fact and determined. In the hour that follows, the two women sort out their differences as Jude attempts to dye her hair red using henna paste. As Jude’s hair sets, the women manage to confront their difficult situation in common terms: we hear how Jude is justified in her heartbreak since Jack and her were together for a decade previously and their breakup is more recent. In turn, Ros discloses how Jude is a phantom hovering over their relationship, and is silently missed in her absence. By the time the henna is ready to be rinsed, Ros, who has made herself at home in Jude’s chaotic flat, helps Jude in a bond that could only be created through a shared sisterhood of beauty’s rituals.
Both actresses play their roles well, avoiding stereotypes and realistically portraying an awkward situation with a cold cynicism that turns to warm sympathy. Their connection to each other and their characters is easily sustained, which makes for an enjoyable viewing experience. What is slightly unrealistic are the actions of making tea, smoking a cigarette, and attempting to wash out Jude’s henna. Although the latter is clearly meant to bring the women closer together, it works more as a slightly acknowledged awkward stage action the two actresses share, instead of a moment of newfound trust between the two characters.
The set depicts Jude’s messy flat in the small attic space of the theatre. A bed on the floor serves as the centrepiece with a rack of clothes as a headboard, a rubbish bin downstage with magazines strewn about and unpacked boxes stand in the background. The lighting is natural and unnoticed for this realistic play and with few entrances and exits, the action flows through to its conclusion. My attention never wavered even though there were only two characters to watch with minimal movement.
The two women represent popular divided opinion on what makes the ideal partnership by defining love in differing terms: Jude through stomach-churning passionate attraction, Ros through mutual realistic comfort. Amy Rosenthal does a good job of exploring both sides of the coin, although the assumption alluded to in the title that a beauty trick will fix everything slightly undermines the nature of female relationships. Or does it? It seems quite idealistic to hope that if we ran into our partner’s old flame, the same friendly result would occur. Although the stakes were less extreme, curiosity over the outcome of the situation was enough to sustain the audience’s attention. For a good-natured exploration on matters of the heart, Henna Night is a must.