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Production photos: Bertie Carvel, The Hairy Ape, Old Vic Theatre

Review: Universally Speaking, Bread and Roses Theatre, SW4

The sub-head for this quartet of monologues under the banner Universally Speaking is 'How Well is the 21st Century Doing?' and it is the final piece that really probes this question.

Called The 7-11 Butterfly Effect writer Don Grimme explores America, the Middle East and Europe post 9/11. With clever and amusingly contrived character names - Talia Ban is nicknamed after a vomiting incident in a convenience store - we are taught the history of the world by a teacher (Pallas McCallum Newark) who uses flash cards to illustrate certain points.

It is a satirical piece in which the absurdity of Grimme's story exposes a truth about the West's reaction and how it has shaped society.

Robert Holtom's piece, Fat, is brilliantly performed by Samantha Shaw who manages to make food and over eating sexy and seductive. But, at the same time, it questions the fat-shaming and fat-blaming culture we live in.

In a third piece a man, who was once in a prominent position, is awaiting sentencing. In the programme notes it says the play mixes different outcomes, presumably inspired by Constellations, but in the performance it felt a little jumbled.

I had a conversation with some fellow audience members afterwards who thought the convict had commited one crime but I thought he'd done something entirely different. Maybe that's what writer Conor Carroll intended but at the time it felt a little a bit too subtle and slight for such a short piece.

I had a similar problem with Hole by Marietta Kirkbride. The meat of the piece was in the programme notes rather than in words and performance itself. It's essentially about a man who is fed up with being bought stuff he doesn't want  so he fulfills his life by buying a pot plant, calling it Steve and talking to it.

Director Simon Jay has packaged up the evening with a hostess, Joanna Rose Barton, who is part air hostess on our 'journey' and part narrator and part stage crew. She talks to us and sometimes sings (with Thomas Simper of the Hole monologue). Not entirely sure it adds a great deal to the proceedings but what is a bit odd is when all the actors reappear on stage for a song and a jig about for the curtain call. That sort of thing works for Shakespeare at the Globe or RSC but I'm not entirely sure it works here.

Universally Speaking is on at the Bread and Roses Theatre in Clapham, SW4 until 17 October. It's 90 minutes long including an interval and all profits from the £10 tickets go to the UN refugee fund.