The Old Red Lion, a theatre above a pub, is a fitting venue for Luke Barnes’ debut comedy, a play which explores Britain’s binge-drinking culture. The setting adds atmosphere to this two-character one-act piece, which although failing to make any particularly profound statements, remains enjoyable and engaging throughout.
Joe is a chirpy, twenty-something ne’er-do-well, who lives with his parents and seems happily resigned to mediocrity. A habitual drinker, he takes the odd manual job, but spends most of his time down the pub with his mates. After seeing an ex-girlfriend in a bar, Joe and his entourage decide to go on a ‘bender’, which he retrospectively describes as ‘one of the best nights of my life’.
Kirsty is a teenager desperate to inject some excitement into her monotonous, suburban lifestyle. Although too young to drink, she and her school friends go in search of alcohol one evening, and after successfully procuring some whisky and vodka through a series of resourceful methods, decide to hit the town. Needless to say, the characters’ lives eventually collide, with inevitably disastrous consequences.
If the plot is somewhat predictable, the well-paced, punchy writing more than compensates for this. Barnes clearly has significant talent, and weaves a rather straightforward tale in a gripping and absorbing manner. The narrative is delivered via a series of independent monologues from the two characters, who remain on stage throughout but do not interact directly with each other. They take it in turns to utter a few sentences each, which is initially rather frustrating as it makes it hard to follow the trajectory of either tale, but becomes an increasingly powerful ploy as the stories start to merge towards the end of the play.
Daniel Kendrick is captivating as Joe, with his expertly delivered chatter. He is responsible for most of the play’s comedic moments, and manages to capture Joe’s carefree, laddish personality. Ria Zmitrowicz, as Kirsty, does well in a role that is less developed, and is believable as the malleable, motor-mouthed teen. As is often the case with plays portraying working-class characters, some of the expressions used don’t quite ring true, but the script makes humorous references to this incongruity.
Lasting a mere forty-five minutes, the play makes the most of every moment and is consistently entertaining. It has much to say about the lives of a betrayed age group, who are forced to exist in a stalemate in which they cannot possibly realise their potential. Barnes tackles this well-trodden subject with refreshing delicacy, and his writing is both inventive and amusing. Just be sure not to drink excessively in the bar downstairs afterwards.