By Simon Stephens
Theatre N17, The Bedford, 77 Bedford Hill, Balham, London SW12 to 22 December 2016.
Mon-Thurs 9pm Mat Sun 4pm.
Runs 1hr 50 mins No interval.
ICKETS: 0796 913 899.
Review: William Russell 12 December.
Not a very merry time in the pub
There is no getting away from the fact that Simon Stephens can write dialogue that hits home, but this story about a handful of working class losers meeting over pints in a pub on the verge of bankruptcy takes far too long to come to the boil. It could be cut drastically to good effect.
Stephens has created some interesting characters and a strong cast work hard to breath life into the goings on, but they are defeated by the fact that the goings on take too long to get going. Their language also becomes somewhat depressing. It may be that the working classes rely on two well known four letter words – as someone from the West of Scotland I have always maintained it is almost possible to carry out a complete conversation using the most popular one in all its variations as verb, adjective, adverb and noun.
But joking apart, there is just too much swearing going on. This may be realistic, but it is tedious to listen to, detracts from the characters Stephens has created and is sloppy writing.
Behind the bar is publican and Irish exile Michael (Brendan Weakliam), who is facing bankruptcy and appears to have a broken marriage and charges of child ill treatment pending. In front of the bar are Billy, a pathetic, harmless 29 year old jobbing builder who lives with his Mum (beautifully played by Jack Bence in one of the best performances I have seen this year) and Giuseppe (flamboyantly played by Alex Gray) , a widowed Italian barber still grieving for his dead wife.
Into their lives, and something does not quite ring true, comes Charlie Anderson, a postman and onetime cellist, who has won a large bet and is spending it. He confronts the three with truths they do not want to face as an amazing amount of drink gets consumed. Christopher Sherwood is good as Charlie, but there is something wrong with the characterisation in the writing that he cannot overcome. To add to the mayhem of this sad, downbeat evening, assorted customers all played to effect by Tom Telford come and go.
Christmas is an ambitious piece which has a political message in there somewhere, but it does try one’s patience long before coming to the inevitable inconclusive ending – the menacing Anderson turns out to be more pussy cat than tiger and they all live to drink another day.
Michael McGraw: Brendan Weakliam.
Billy Lee Russell: Jack Bence.
Giuseppe Rossi: Alec Gray.
Charlie Anderson: Christopher Sherwood.
Fat Man/Eccentric Man/ Lost Dog Owner: Tom Telford.
Director: Sarah Chapleo.
Assistant Director: Thian Stuttle.
Tech Manager/Lighting Designer: Tom Burgess.