The 82 bus from Oldham to Manchester traverses one of the longest pub crawls in the country. Rather, it used to. The journey is now punctuated by boarded up boozers - victims of the credit crunch and urban gentrification. It makes for a sorry spectacle.
Under the auspices of producer Richard Morgan, the Royal Exchange’s Pub aims to fulfil two functions, acting as a celebration of the great British public house – with its attendant ideas of community and conviviality – and a showcase for work by new directors. With a rolling programme, audiences are guaranteed a different experience each night. The brochure teases with promises of something ‘exhilarating’ and ‘unmissable.’ Judging by tonight’s offering, it’s a claim that’s pretty wide of the mark.
The designers have done an impeccable job in transforming the Studio space; there are tacky carpets on the floor, brass plates on the wall and a spit and sawdust bar serving Holts Ales. Local actor James Quinn – one of the coppers in TV’s Early Doors – plays the landlord, and makes an engaging host. There’s an interactive jukebox raffle; buy a ticket, win a record and either play it yourself or ask the DJ to do so. There’s a smattering of drama behind the optics in the shape of a romance between one of the customers and the pub barmaid (played by the attractive, sparky Claire Disley).
A pub quiz provides the focus of the evening. No, really. As someone who enjoys quizzes, I was happy to be there. Though it raises the question - is this theatre? Well … no. It’s not even art. It’s not even a particularly good quiz (for their trouble, the winning team received a box of Matchmakers; the word ‘dismal’ doesn’t even come close).
Forced Entertainment’s Quizoola used a similar format for more subversive ends, with questions about popular culture juxtaposed against existential debate (‘why is modern life such rubbish?’) I was hoping for more of the same but it’s all rather predictable. Our team – Sparkle Motion! - came fourth (respect to Becci and Paolo for their general knowledge expertise).
It’s a fun night out but make a point of checking the Pub programme before deciding whether or not to buy a ticket.