Heading into the historic Royal Oak on Barton Lane in Eccles last night, I was intrigued and excited by the prospect of the Early Doors promise of “immersive pub theatre”.
I entered the pub to be greeted by a bouncer who obviously had to check our names were on the door before we could proceed through and take a seat in the lounge side of the vast Edwardian establishment.
Not knowing quite how ‘immersive’ this performance was going to be, my first task was to find a seat in the most inconspicuous corner I could find.
The second task proved a little more difficult, trying to work out from the people around me who were cast members and who were the audience: the young nervous-looking lad in a Hawaiian T-shirt and rabbit ears, drinking a pint of bitter through a straw should’ve struck me as an obvious character, but then again this was a Thursday night out in Eccles!
Once settled, the ‘Landlord’, Paddy, ensured we all had our pub quiz sheets for later in the evening and then the performance really began.
The eight cast members leapt from each corner of the room and moved around the tables as they sang in chorus what felt like an ode to a local boozer.
From here on in, and sadly lasting only one hour, the show was a rollercoaster of emotions, each character providing hilarity, sadness and introspect.
From Steve the Quiz Master, who masterfully turns the quiz questions into an all-out assault on his ex-wife, to the bouncer, who shows his human side by recounting events that lost him the love of his life.
The piece centres around the chalk & cheese relationship of brother and sister, Paddy and Beth, who have been left the establishment after the passing of their mother, stuck in a love/hate relationship from which they cannot escape.
The evening weaved from poetry and monologues, to songs and one liners, ever swaying from despair and pain to humour and revelry. The monologues were almost Shakespearean in style (should Shakespeare have plied his trade in Eccles).
Within the play’s delivery there were lashings of similarities with our own Bard, John Cooper Clarke.
While the observations on normal life when teamed with the fantastic writing and precision performances were up there with anything Peter Kay or Craig Cash could muster.
At the beginning of the night I did wonder in what such characters could be found and where such side-splitting humour could rest cheek by jowl with such poignant life stories, as the hour passed by I soon realised where: in your local pub!
As a side note to the review I would like to note that after the performance had ended and the actors had changed clothes, the audience seemed to stick around, many wanted to know more about the characters and their backstories, whilst others mingled in the bar to discuss what they had just witnessed.
It appears that for a brief time the play created a ‘local pub’ atmosphere between an audience of strangers.