Writer: Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham
Director: Jeremy Stockwell
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham have CVs that prove that if you try hard enough you can turn your social life into a career. With some impressive credentials in booze journalism they’re both highly qualified to deliver the educational element of this entertaining exploration of the history of alcohol, but they’re also pretty accomplished comic performers, and have created a show that, while packed with facts, doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The Thinking Drinkers’ Pub Crawl, currently on a 50-date tour around the UK, takes its starting point from their book,Thinking Drinkers: The Enlightened Imbiber’s Guide, and is a based on their mission to get Britain drinking less and better. The show opens with a funeral procession for the beloved local – eighteen pubs closed every week last year in the UK – and a reminder of its important place in the social life of the nation. Ben and Tom are keen to wean people off their phones, supermarket booze and telly and get them back in the pub.
To remind us what we’re missing they create that same convivial atmosphere in the theatre, passing out beers and cracking the kind of pun-heavy jokes you can only find really funny when you’ve had a few. They’re rude and consciously politically incorrect, they strip to their pants to demonstrate ancient Greek wrestling, perform a delightfully clumsy Dirty Dancing routine and undergo half a dozen costume changes on stage. It’s a fast-paced, high-energy couple of hours of fun and drinking.
The beers are followed by shots of vodka, gin, whisky and rum. Good quality stuff all round. We’re urged to take it slow – nosing, sipping and getting the full experience, while Ben and Tom deliver facts on the history, ingredients and manufacture of each, along with many more jokes.
The audience are encouraged to join in, and they do – emboldened by the force of the performance as much as by the alcohol. These two are likeable guys, the kind of blokes that would genuinely be fun to spend a night in the pub with. There’s a lovely balance of high and low culture – sometimes even verging on the intellectual – that gives the almost slapstick humour that punctuates it an unlikely gravitas. Director Jeremy Stockwell may well have a lot to do with this. His biography is littered with madcap radio and TV – he directed Angelos and Barry’s A Matter of Life and Death and starred as Spike Milligan in A Sockful of Custard.
The Thinking Drinkers’ Pub Crawl might work better in a less formal theatre layout – passing the trays of shots along the rows slightly disrupts the pace of things – but given a fairly full house on the night this reviewer saw it, they need the seats. An alternative to single-use plastic shot glasses would also be a big improvement. There’s an unnecessary amount of waste piled into black bin bags at the end of the night, very much at odds with the quality not quantity message of the show. All in all though, it’s a wholly enjoyable night out.
Runs until 24 November 2018 | Image: Contributed