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A CurtainUp London Review
We meet Michael Macgraw (William Ely) the Irish born barman and publican of this failing pub. A man in denial who doesn't open the bills but instead carries on drinking as if to forget. His ex-wife and son Danny live in the area but he hasn't seen his 14 year old son for 7 years. His displacement activities, besides alcohol, are press ups and listening to the songs of Frank Sinatra.
Billy the builder (Ralph Aiken) is younger and lives with his eccentric mother but knows very little about his father. His mother has recently disclosed information that he finds disturbing. They are joined by Giuseppe Rossi (Lionel Guyett), a dapper older man. He's the local barber, originally from Italy and now three years a widower after the death of his English wife.
They are joined by the postman, Charlie Anderson (James Groom) who having had a big win on the horses plies everyone with drinks. Charlie is both unsettling and charismatic in Michael Kingsbury's involving production. He tells us he had a career as a professional musician; Charlie carries a cello case but is there a cello in it and can he play? Instead he plays on the insecurities of his companions, probing their accounts of themselves with incisive questions.
Around the time that Christmas was written, Conor Macpherson had a huge hit with The Weir, essentially people telling ghost stories and set in a bar. Stephens' play is in a less obvious lower key that captures the kind of seedy pub which has long since closed down or been tarted up and turned into a venue for the new gentrified residents of the East End. So the venue too takes on a kind of nostalgia, all the more poignant as at The White Bear we walk through the smartened up, light and spacious pub to go into the theatre set of a small claustrophobic bar with its meager fairy lights a failing attempt at Christmas cheer.
The performances convince and the play stays with you. The closing scene has unexpected twists and turns as we witness and feel a man's indecision.
London theatre doesn't have to be imported musicals and expensive tickets. A wealth of intimate pub theatres offer nightly fare, plays with affordable tickets between £10 and £20.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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