‘Sketching’ is obviously a very lovely idea, wherein playwright James Graham has attempted to parlay some of his enormous recent success – it wasn’t so long ago that he had two plays open next door to each other on the West End – into a leg up to playwrights at the start of their career. Less obvious is how effective this particular format is going to be.
Inspired by Charles Dickens’s exuberant ‘Boz’, ‘Sketching’ weaves together a number of lively London-set playlets from nine writers. However, Thomas Hescott’s production, built around a series of core stories by Graham himself, only attempts to accommodate half of the writers per night.
This is probably quite a sensible idea (the show runs at 2.5 hours as it is), but it clearly limits the exposure everyone’s getting, and there’s not a huge amount of clarity about which plays will be on when. And in attempting to make the stories relate to each other – and so being somewhat subservient to Graham’s linking plots – there’s a bit of a sense that we’re not necessarily seeing the writers really let rip.
That said ‘Sketching’ is not without its moments, and as a rule the storylines – be it Graham’s ‘Peter Piper Has a Plan’, about a career criminal plotting an inscrutable heist, or Himanshu Ojha’s ‘The Hand of Hozan’, about a sewage worker who wanders into a police station with a dismembered hand – fizz with promise and knowing London references, even if some struggle to hold onto the momentum.
It’s a funny old portrait of twenty-first century London:a bit Richard Curtis-y, with little real sense of the capital’s cultural diversity bar a dodgy Asian shop owner and a refugee we see only in flashbacks. (Though I was sad not to see Adam Hughes’s play ‘Petra’s Polski Sklep’).
All that accepted, it has a terrifically versatile cast of five, with particularly strong comic chops from Sophie Wu and Samuel James. Plus it’s not every day you get to see new work by the guy who did ‘This House’ in an East End music hall. If ‘Sketching’ isn’t golden Graham, his class does shine through, particularly with the enjoyably – and unexpectedly – tart ending.
I’m not sure I could really fully 100 percent make up my mind about ‘Sketching’ without knowing whether it had been valuable to the writers or not, which almost seems to be the main point. As an endeavour it’s noble. As an actual night of entertainment it’s… solid.