Pub enters its third week with another theatrical double bill each of which has some exceptional features. In The Love Shift Anna (Leah Hackett) waits in frustration for her boyfriend under the watchful, almost voyeuristic, gaze of barman Charlie (David Hunter) whose love for her is unspoken. Around them revolve other pub regulars played, along with boyfriend Steve, by Craig Whittaker.

This is a knowing but not cynical look at pub culture and even love. What makes it audacious is that writer and director Janine Waters and songwriter Dom Waters have made it an opera! The entire score is played on the pub piano and sung by the cast weaving in and out of the audience. Hackett and Whittaker sing well and Hunter’s comedic skills compensate for his difficulty reaching some notes. The show, however, does not really rise above being a novelty as the songs are used to add exposition rather (with the exception of egotistical boyfriend Steve) to develop the characters. It is only the skill of the cast that makes us care.

Describing the casting for Jiggery Pokery makes it sound like a gimmick as Carry On.. star Charles Hawtrey, along with over a dozen other characters, are brought to life by a single female performer. However, the insightful and moving interpretation by Amanda Lawrence turns this potential weakness into strength. Her slender frame recalls Hawtrey’s bird-like body and her gender suggests how many of Hawtrey’s problems could be attributed to his contempt for the sex into which he was born.

This is anything but a whitewashed version of a life. Hawtrey is shown as a self-loathing, foul mouthed and predatory alcoholic. Yet Lawrence draws sympathy for someone who never really got the acclaim, or pay, that his talent deserved and who was consumed by guilt for coming to feel ashamed of the mother he should have loved.

The play does not really suit the Pub concept. It seems unsympathetic to tell the tale of an alcoholic in such a location and Cathy Wren’s nicely worn backstage dressing room set is designed for a more conventional theatre than the pub layout. Yet director Paul Hunter ensures that Lawrence takes advantage of the unique location to interact direct with the audience.

Biographical details, such as the source of Hawtrey’s stage name, are communicated with economy. We are given fascinating hints of what could have been including the possibility of Hawtrey playing Andrew Augecheek to Olivier’s Malvolio. Hawtrey’s scenes in various films are re-created in an imaginative and very funny way with Lawrence miming to a recorded soundtrack in perfect synchronisation.

Jiggery Pokery is a moving and powerful story of someone who is far from admirable but for whom one has to feel sympathy.

- Dave Cunningham