Drinks experts Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham are firm believers in the powers of alcohol, and they are keen to share their enthusiasm for intoxicating beverages with their audience; theirs is not a production for teetotallers – though they will tell you where the word teetotal comes from.
This entertaining show takes the form of a whirlwind history of alcohol in all its guises, a history that encompasses Jesus, Mohammed, the early Greeks and Christians, and the Second World War, while taking in Picasso, Hemingway and Hogarth along the way. Whether explaining how beer is brewed by monks (a sample of which was handed around the audience – and very tasty it was too) or describing how absinthe drove the French bonkers (further samples provided – also tasty, though possibly less advisable), McFarland and Sandham throw out enough facts for the show to feel genuinely informative while remaining very funny with it. Of course, lubricating the humour with free samples of booze doesn’t hurt: trays of sip-sized spirits did the rounds throughout, making the production a multi-sensory – if, by the end, somewhat hazy – experience.
McFarland and Sandham are both enormously likeable and skilled raconteurs, not above being ridiculous if necessary, and the production makes the most of their easy going charm and willingness to make fun of themselves. It’s elegant in its simplicity: the only props being a drinks cabinet, a globe (which they use, somewhat haphazardly, to pinpoint where key moments in the history of alcohol took place), and some pictures used to illustrate why all the best artists were better when they drank (including a penis joke that could have seemed puerile in less accomplished hands, but here just seems playful). They engage with the audience and have great chemistry with one another; at times the production feels akin to a night in the pub with your funniest friends, a feeling reinforced by the cabaret-style layout of Soho Theatre’s downstairs space. The somewhat cramped seating creates a sense of camaraderie with the performers and other audience members (when you’re crammed up against someone else’s table, it’s hard not to speak them) which could have been annoying but actually serves the show well; by the end we were all cheerfully passing the various trays of drinks around the room, giving the whole thing a pleasingly festive air.
At just over an hour long, this is a packed and fast moving show that doesn’t waste a minute or outstay its welcome – though McFarland and Sandham are so much fun, I’d happily have spent longer in their company. I left (having imbibed several shots as well as a bottle of strong Belgian beer) feeling like I had not only had a great night out but that I’d actually learned something in the process: now if only could remember what it was…