Drama in St Albans seems to be on something of a roll. Last night I attended the locally based Ovo theatre group's first performance in their new home in the former Patons bookshop on Holywell Hill. It was a great loss to the city when this stopped being a bookshop - I remember it from the days of the quirky and determinedly independent Catherine Paton. But if a shop premises has to be empty, letting it to Ovo is a clever solution - it is a superb location for a cultural venue, situated as it is on the axis of the Abbey at the entrance to Sumpter Yard. The shop interior has been stripped down and painted white - the bones of the medieval building are suddenly very apparent.
The performance was in the shed in the courtyard at the back - very intimate inside, draped in black, like an Edinburgh fringe venue. I had not previously seen the two short Pinter plays presented last night - "Party Time" and "Celebration". Both had palpable menace. The Abbey bell ringing practice added to the atmosphere. In an un-named city there is a party. Guests talk disjointedly of exclusive clubs, island retreats and past and wished-for liaisons. But something is happening on the streets outside beyond the curtains. The creepy host apologises for traffic jams. Is it a coup or just some brutal repression? Finally the bloodied and injured brother of the only guest who behaves like a human being bursts into the party and smashes the veneer of civilisation. Cut to an expensive restaurant after the interval. As the Ovo blurb says, "The only visible knives here may be the ones on the elegantly laid tables, but people are also getting laid and knifed, only this time with a smile." Savage and mordant stuff - and horribly funny at times. There is no point my saying go and see it, since all the performances are sold out. But it is clear there is a really interesting new addition to the St Albans arts scene. Even if the shop gets a commercial tenant, lets hope that Ovo can negotiate with the Abbey authorities to stay in the rear courtyard space and shed.