Last weekend’s Offies were the first theatrical awards I can remember to celebrate the Best Theatre Bars. Only a week or so later, this site-specific production (first staged at the Mailcoach in Northampton) would surely have swept the board with all of them.
Inhabiting the pub’s warmly wood-panelled upstairs room seems almost as integral to this production as the script, so it seems right to review both. The choice of the Queen’s Head as its third establishment (surely the creative team’s most pleasurable research exercise) is a good one. The Victorian decor feels typical of the political establishment that DC Moore’s piece will go on to lampoon; but, nextdoor to the Piccadilly Theatre, it’s also located in the more vibrant side of Soho’s nightlife.
Making perfect use of this environment, Trystan Gravelle as Dave gets off to a gentle and conversational start, gradually bringing the audience to focus without even the aid house lights. Throughout the play’s many twists and turns, this conversational tone keeps the audience eagerly engaged as much with the teller as the tale. The whole piece – coming in at around 40 minutes – sustains the pretence that it could almost be an unexpectedly sustained and charmingly periphrastic story told by one drinker to another on a long dark night.
At first, Moore’s script looks to be a searing satire of the civil service. Disenchanted and disgusted by his co-workers, he is at times joyfully puerile, at others caustic in nailing the everyday stupidities and narrow-minded idiosyncrasies of a breed we all know too well, but usually tolerate.
The true story Dave has come to relate begins in a drunken moment. He quickly finds himself pissed, alone, and launching off haphazardly into the night with four cans of lager and a packet of hula hoops. Having first used honesty as a scalding and hysterical social scalpel, Honest soon reveals itself a far more interesting interrogation of the value we attach to honesty as a crutch for our dissatisfactions.
If there’s a criticism, it’s that at little over half an hour Moore’s play falls short of heavyweight, and is never as interesting in answering its questions as it is in posing them. But more time and denser plotting would have been the script’s undoing: it is precisely its brevity and underdevelopment that keeps this beautiful one-man show as relaxed, enjoyable and natural as a spontaneous conversation with the bloke at the next table.
Honest is a self-contained, self-limiting gem of a play, exhilaratingly performed, simply directed by Polly Findlay, and sharply written. It’s as stimulating for 40 minutes as DC Moore can be devastating at greater length, and well worth a visit.