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Review of Roller Diner at Soho Theatre

Roller Diner
Roller Diner – photo credit Helen Maybanks

First-time writer Stephen Jackson’s Roller Diner is… kooky. Perhaps this is the best word to describe this energetic, charming, admittedly bonkers little play, set in Eddie’s somewhat dilapidated 1950s style diner in Birmingham. Jackson, winning the Verity Bargate Award with Roller Diner in 2015, has workshopped the play extensively and now, directed by Soho Theatre’s Artistic Director Steve Marmion, presents the play for the first time with the strap line, ‘Home of the Full English Brexit’. Expectations are therefore high for this professional debut, which beat 900 other Verity Bargate applications to win the prestigious award.

And what we get, utterly bizarre though it is, does not disappoint. Marika (Lucy McCormick) is ‘super duper waitress,’ newly arrived from Poland, seeking a job in Eddie’s Roller Diner of dreams. Confident she’ll impress, this sassy siren offers to work for free – much to aging Eddie’s (Joe Dixon’s) delight, who has admittedly let the place (and himself) go a bit. But not everyone is thrilled at the appearance (and diligence) of this blonde stranger – Eddie’s daughter Chantal (Lucie Shorthouse) smells a rat, and together with her boyfriend PJ (Ricky Oakley), sets out to unearth Marika’s secrets, getting more than they bargained for along the way.

The beauty of this show is that it is a musical, but not a serious, ‘worthy’ one – oh no, this is a comedy. It is simply too funny for words. Which at first takes a little getting used to – are they in earnest? Do they think what they’re presenting is actually… good? It’s only when the audience realises that this production is acutely self-aware, sending up every element of the plot, the characters, the music, and the style itself, that they really start to enjoy themselves. For whilst the play does hit upon many of the more sombre issues prevalent in today’s election-frenzied media – immigration, Brexit, racism, etc – it goes beyond this to present a group of people just trying to get along, to find something to cling to, looking for love, in an uncertain world.

Performances are superb across the board, although I was tickled pink by Rina Fatania’s Jean, the lovelorn waitress who has waited all her life for ‘Johnny from Mars’ to come and sweep her off her feet. Her facial expressions and comic timing are spot on. Ricky Oakley’s PJ is also a joy – young, boyish, and a complete goon in chef’s trousers. And a special mention to David Thaxton, who not only plays the adorable, shuffling Roger but acts as Musical Director and plays constantly throughout. Yet all the cast delight under Steve Marmion’s excellent direction. I wasn’t moved, I didn’t get cross, and the play didn’t spark heated debate afterwards in the bar – all things I expected to happen (or rather dreaded) as the lights went down, given the ostensible ‘issues’ inherent in a Full English Brexit. Instead, I laughed (a lot), spending the entire evening utterly bewildered and beguiled by the whole kooky caboodle. Not for everyone, this, but certainly for me.

4 stars

Review by Amy Stow

A theatrical jukebox with songs, sexual tension and failed dreams… all served with extra ketchup
Welcome to Eddie Costello’s Roller Diner – a faded Brummie beacon of a deep fried American dream. The staff can’t skate and there’s a whiff of burnt sausages and disappointment.

So when new waitress Marika arrives from somewhere foreign looking for a slice of a better life, hearts are set alight in a fiery recipe of love, jealousy and murder.

Directed by Soho Theatre Artistic Director Steve Marmion, Roller Diner is the professional debut of Birmingham writer Stephen Jackson and the winner of Soho Theatre’s prestigious Verity Bargate Award for new writing.

A savage sweet musical comedy, it opens up the heart of middle England and the universal search for a place to call home.

Running Time: Approx 120mins including interval
Age Recommendation: 14+
ROLLER DINER
Fri 26 May – Sat 24 Jun 2017, 7pm
Soho Theatre

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