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Ablutions – Brewery Theatre, Bristol

Writer: Patrick deWitte

Adaptor: Matthew Whittle

Director: Bertrand Lesca

Reviewer: Madelaine Bowman

Adapted from Patrick deWitt’s critically acclaimed novel of the same name, Ablutions paints a darkly comic portrait of a hapless bartender’s struggle to break free from the tedium and debauchery of life behind the bar. Set in a Hollywood dive-bar populated by eccentrics, drug addicts and losers, the play brings into focus the vulgarity and lacklustre reality of addiction, presented through the eyes of a man on the brink of self-destruction.

Soothing country music is played softly in the background by Ben Osborn, Fiona Mikel and Harry Humbertone as, armed with a glass of whiskey, the bartender (Eoin Slattery) introduces the play. “Consider the bartender… See yourself through his eyes,” he asks of the audience before continuing to present the characters, each representing another cog in a wheel of desperate escapism.

Curtis, played by Humberstone, is a sleazy sex pest and regular visitor to the bar, whose way with the ladies is far more likely to secure him a punch in the face than a bed for the night. Also played by Humberstone is bar manager Simon, a failed Hollywood star with an appetite for alcohol and prostitutes and an even bigger appetite for cocaine. Mikel plays the bartender’s wife Elaine – the only of the main characters to remain in a sober state throughout the play. Her failed efforts to help her husband tackle his addictions eventually drive her to leave him: “Where will you be in five years’ time? Where will you be in 10 years’ time?” she asks him repeatedly throughout the performance. The bartender’s unwillingness to admit the severity of his addiction is made clear during a scene in which, standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon and suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms, he states “There is too much of the Earth missing here, and I just don’t want to know about it.” Scenes such as this combined with transcendental hallucinations and replays of past events create a despairing and repetitive world in which the line between dreams and reality are confused.

The bartender’s intense hopelessness and disconnection from the world is punctuated by hilarious outbursts of ridiculousness and vulgarity from various characters played by Humberstone and Mikel, who serve to highlight his inability to relate to anyone around him in a meaningful way. Shifting seamlessly between singing, playing music and performing several characters each, both Humberstone and Mikel present every rôle with flair and originality, proving that minimal casting can work extremely well when properly executed. Beautifully composed music, directed by Osborn, works to enhance each scene of the play, providing a mesmerising soundtrack to the bartender’s journey through the confusion and hopelessness of addiction.

A stage lacking any form of set design at first seems a little too sparse, but it soon becomes clear that nothing other than the actors and the music is needed. The characters themselves are vibrant and engaging enough to draw the audience into their imagined world and hold them there from start to finish. The bartender’s insightful dialogue is simple yet poetic, and is all the more enhanced by Slattery’s monotonal delivery, which reflects the tedium of his inescapable life.

FellSwoops production offers a fantastic interpretation of deWitt’s novel, depicting the destructive and cyclical nature of addiction with creativity and humour. The small cast portrays each character with a high level of sophistication, and the accompanying music, although sometimes a little too loud, works to create a haunting and illusory world in which nothing, not even existence, is certain.

Runs until 25 August 2014

Writer: Patrick deWitte Adaptor: Matthew Whittle Director: Bertrand Lesca Reviewer: Madelaine Bowman Adapted from Patrick deWitt’s critically acclaimed novel of the same name, Ablutions paints a darkly comic portrait of a hapless bartender’s struggle to break free from the tedium and debauchery of life behind the bar. Set in a Hollywood dive-bar populated by eccentrics, drug addicts and losers, the play brings into focus the vulgarity and lacklustre reality of addiction, presented through the eyes of a man on the brink of self-destruction. Soothing country music is played softly in the background by Ben Osborn, Fiona Mikel and Harry Humbertone…

Review Overview

The Public Reviews Score

Darkly-comic

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