Imagine a life where you have a menial existence, serving alcohol to unsavoury and hedonistic individuals night after night in a bar. Your moral compass has taken an unstable direction and your wife is exasperated by your life of drink and drugs, not to mention the toll it is taking on your marriage. Well imagine no more with Fellswoop Theatre’s production of Ablutions at Soho Theatre.
Adapted from the novel by Patrick Dewitt, Ablutions centres around the character You (Eoin Slattery) a man whose American dream is more of a nightmare due to his career as a bar man that has sucked him in to its murkier underworld. ‘Covered in dust and ash’ Slattery describes the bar in the opening of the play. This depressing descriptive flows from Slattery throughout the play perfectly, a world weariness of someone much older which added to a tense atmosphere throughout the play. At the back of You’s mind and by the appearance of a mystical lady to the bar (Fiona Mikel), You has an epiphany to try and make sense of his tangled life and wash away the unclean lifestyle hence the title Ablutions.
With a haunting folk inspired musical soundtrack composed by Ben Osborn (who also played guitar in the production) performed by the three other members of the cast mostly in the left hand side of the stage, I was left spellbound. The fact that all the female and male members of the cast were acted by Fiona Mikel and Harry Humberstone is a real testament to their characterisation skills. The trio performing the original compositions in the corner as You’s conscience and echo to the story unfolding in the play, was almost at times ethereal but never over sentimental.
The character of Curtis was the much needed comic relief of the production although at times bordering on revolting. Humberstone’s stooped posture and crude gestures really summarized the depravity of the bar and the individuals that occupied it night after night .‘ Have you ever been buried alive?’ Curtis asks You in such a flippant way the question had a hilarity about it, mostly due to the precision of Humberstone’s comic timing.
Fiona Mikel was a standout performance in this production, her American accent rolling off the tip of her tongue with ease and never feeling contrived. Whether showing tenderness as You’s wife or as a drunken punter at the bar, her acting was flawless with a commanding presence. This was emphasized by her solo singing interjections that had a life of their own throughout with an impressive high register to her voice.
The sparse staging was a wise decision by Director Bertrand Lesca as I was surprised at first to see a lack of props but very soon could see that due to the impressive physicality and intricacy of the actors they were not needed. This minimalism really emphasised the story of humanity at its most fallen and debauched.
The climax to Ablutions was the only slight disappointment to this innovative and compelling production by an exciting theatre company. Not that I wanted an earth shattering resolution, but You’s closing lines of the play were perhaps a little schmaltzy, and I cared too much about this man’s crumbling life and what the future was to bring to have to hear them.
Review By Francesca Mepham
Soho Theatre – Upstairs, 21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE
Tuesday 10th February – Sunday 22nd February 2015, 7pm
Running time 60 minutes
Picture yourself as a bartender, sipping top-shelf whiskey and watching your customers descend into nightly oblivion. Your heart is broken by the world around you and, leaving the whiskey aside, you hatch a devious, unthinkable plan of escape…
Creative: Director Bertrand Lesca, Musical Director Ben Osborn, Creative Producer Jesse Meadows, Lighting Designer Elliot Griggs, Dramaturg Rina Vergano
Cast Eoin Slattery, Fiona Mikel, Harry Humberstone, Ben Osborn
Developed with Bristol Old Vic Ferment and Supported by Arts Council of England
Cardiff, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – Friday 30th January
Swansea, Pontardawe Arts Centre – Thursday 5th February
Bath – Friday 6th February
London – Tuesday 10th – Sunday 22nd February
Exeter, Bikeshed Theatre – Tuesday 24th – Saturday 28th February
Bristol Old Vic – Wednesday 18th – Friday 20th March
Derby, Derby Theatre – Saturday 21st March
The Hub, Leeds – Sunday 22nd March
Hat Factory, Luton – Thursday 26th March
Wellingborough, Castle Theatre – Friday 27th March
Salisbury Arts Centre – Tuesday 30th March
Manchester, The Lowry – Saturday 4th April
Thursday 12th February 2015