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Gin and Chronic Arthritis (Greater Manchester Fringe Festival)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Venue: Lass O'Gowrie
Where: Manchester

The Pickle family live in a high- rise flat on a sink estate. They while away a fairly pointless existence looking for, or remembering, love. Mariah (Rosie Phillips) and Jarvis (Jack Williamson) are expecting their first child. Half-brother Carlton (Joe Wandera) surfs dubious internet sites. Mother Brenda (Carol Bradley) and nana Marilyn (Jill Hughes) remember lovers who are in gaol or have passed on. But the emergence of a literal ghost from the past has an impact on the family.

Director Rob Lees (who co-wrote the play with Jill Hughes) opens with style. Paul Cliff’s striking 1960’s credits make a comparison between the bright colourful hope of the past and the grey reality of the present. But the writers have yet to master the difficult technique of finding profundity and humour in lives and situations that are essentially mundane. It takes ages for a focal point to emerge so the first half lacks momentum and feels over-long.

The writers seem reluctant to risk alienating their potential audience by offering material that is radically different from that to which they are already accustomed. The format is familiar from television – it feels like a repeat of The Royle Family or Shameless.  Although very funny the show is closer to a series of comic routines and dialogues than a cohesive play.

The skill of the writers is apparent in the dialogue that, although earthy, is sparkling and endlessly quotable. "Men, we are told, are a like a wart on the arse – you’re glad when it’s gone but miss having something to pick at."

A strong cast offer committed performances throwing themselves into mimed song routines and delivering the fine dialogue in suitably flat, or completely over the top, tones. But the characters are so broadly written that the cast have to strain to make them anything other than grotesques and they certainly are not likable. This is a group that, after years, has only just noticed that supposed brother Carlton is of a different race from the rest of the family. Tracy King’s wonderfully garish costumes really do catch the sense of a family without style or grace.

Gin and Chronic Arthritis suffers from an episodic structure and is a play that has not yet shaken off its influences to become an original piece of work.

- Dave Cunningham


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