I have seen the Royal Exchange Theatre converted to a Bingo Hall, but I’ve never seen it as a very realistic pub.
The landlord, James Quinn, pulls pints from a fully-fitted bar whilst customers play darts and take a chance on the fruit machines. When he greets me, I joke that I am writing about him and, if he does anything wrong, I’ll get the brewery to kick him out! He takes it in good spirit.
This pub is the sort of down-to-earth place that has kept communities together for hundreds of years but is now under threat. In the play, A Free House by actor Roger Morlidge and Director, Chris Meads, the cast mingle with the customers telling tales as they go.
Chief story teller is Morlidge playing Mike, who chats about his three-year-old son as the jazzed up version of “What a Friend we Have in Jesus” is played on an old Joanna. Then he turns to his relationship with his own father who carries him on his shoulders at a football match.
Other customers join in with similar stories and, suddenly, you realise that in this happy, boozy atmosphere a serious point is being made about how men interact with their own fathers and sons. Some of the customers are not all they seem. They are members of the Royal Exchange’s education department who chip in from time to time with moments of drama.
Occasionally the pauses between sentences are too long and the pace a little slow which does jar slightly.
But it was my loss, the theatre’s gain that I had to sup alone. When I asked to bring a friend, I was told the Studio Theatre wasn’t just a free house but a full house.This proves the popularity of the concept. It’s an unusual experience because you feel involved the whole time, and it's definitely worth repeating in the future.