Mark’s Bread, downstairs from Brewery Theatre, is packed. There’s only ten minutes to go until FellSwoop Theatre invites Bristol to experience Ablutions, “a dark, boozy, grimly funny tale”, so maybe it’s apt that most of us should be buying alcohol?
The theatre doors open and we swarm in on a very hot July night. This pre-Edinburgh fringe show has attracted a full house so seats at the very front may be wise, just a tad cooler.
There is nothing on stage, save 4 people: 3 of them shoo-bopping with instruments and the other is our nameless barman, washing and drying glasses that only he can see. He’s bored; sick of this life of mundanity, up to here with serving the same drinks to the same people, enough already with the scarred hands, ripped and healed over the years by broken glass. What else can he do but turn to drink himself, top shelf whiskey must numb the monotony, the mind-numbs?
His late nights behind the LA bar, his smashes in his wife’s car, his incomprehensible chatter, his refusal to deal with it all are heading him straight to divorce. But he can seek solace in another drink, a different woman, a silent puke, a road trip …
Eoin Slattery is convincing as the bored-shitless barman, his demeanour shouts “fed-up” and his wit is dry. There is an underlying humour in Ablutions, an adaptation of Patrick DeWitt’s short novel, not the sort of humour that has you laughing out loud (though some of the audience do), but more a wry nod towards something you already know, a place you’ve (I’ve?) personally visited.
We meet countless characters – drinking regulars, staff, shop assistants, pick ups – all played by Fiona Mikel and Harry Humberstone. The pair constantly move about the stage, adding spark and relieving us of having to suffer the laconic barman in isolation for over an hour. Mikel plays several women but, throughout, all I really see is his suffering wife and I’m not sure whether that’s lack of versatility/costume change or a deliberate move (is the wife always on the barman’s mind so that all women roll into her, become her?). Humberstone has the best comedic delivery (or opportunities) and is able to contort his face to get into several parts; Curtis is creepy, the shop assistant is weird, Simon is a dick.
Every now and then these two ping back into place to support the continuous sound of Ben Osborn’s acoustic guitar. At times the music is jarring, at others it’s soothing, but always it is a necessary element to the show.
What I like most about Ablutions is that is has a real narrative and I want genuinely to know what happens next! The story is well told by all four performers and it works as a complete piece. If you’re at Edinburgh Festival, it’s worth a peek and, if you take a drink in with you, you may start to wonder about your own addictions …
Fellswoop Theatre perform Ablutions at Assembly Roxy Downstairs as part of Edinburgh Festival
– Review by Becky Condron