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Ablutions (Bristol)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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In a down at heel Hollywood bar the barman (Eoin Slattery) observes the same bunch of eccentric regulars coming in night after night making the same conversations and acting out the same predictable drunken behaviour. Each night has a Ground Hog Day quality to the disillusioned bartender but he is unable to escape his predicament due to his own psychological flaws which make him little better than the damaged individuals he observes. Fellswoop Theatre’s Ablutions tells the story of one man’s booze-soaked drift into drink, divorce and a struggle to escape his circumstances.

With musical accompaniment provided throughout by the cast of three - plus Ben Osborn on guitar - the play has no set or props but instead lets the story and the characterisations do all the work. Slattery is excellent as the un-named barman who watches proceedings with a cynical commentary but at the same time is reluctant to address his own foibles. Unlike the other characters in the bar – whose addictions are clear to see- Eoin’s character is an expert at hiding his own addiction; he even boasts that his wife has never heard him throw up because he is an expert at hitting the porcelain of the toilet rather than the water. As the play goes on he begins to realise that he does need to try and pull his life back from the brink but finds himself in a cycle of apparent progress and then relapse.

The play has kept the feel of the novel and the bartender’s encounters with the regulars has a sketch like quality, which helped emphasise the idea of life in the bar being stuck in a repeating loop. Fiona Mikel and Harry Humberstone play all the colourful characters in the bar plus the people in the central characters life. Both actors give such strong characterisations that it is easy to forget there are only three actors on the stage. Humberstone proves to be a fantastic comic performer and gives each character their own unique physicality – particularly memorable is the health food assistant who slithers his way across the stage and Curtis the seedy regular. Mikel’s female characters provide the heart and soul of the production, especially in her role of the barman’s long-suffering wife who struggles to deal with the consequences of her husband’s drinking.

It is on the surface a difficult book to transfer to the stage and perhaps could have done with a little tightening up in certain places but overall the production shows life warts and all but with real humour and respect for the original source material.


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