Male bonding contains seeds of sacrifice and understanding to rival any Christian religion’s tenets of divine hope and compassion. And in a play about three Irish males, it’s difficult not to think of the influence of Catholic and Protestant faiths on the national psyche.
Putting the canon of dogma aside, it’s a curious phenomenon, this tacit bonding that ensures men will continue to die for one another, either in a street brawl or on a battlefield in some distant country – one that needs no religious warnings of eternal damnation and hell to ensure the perpetuation of affinity and brotherly love.
So what does this have to do with The Best Pints, playwright Jack Gallagher’s raucously funny play set in a pub in Northern Ireland and brilliantly directed by Kay Dent? Actually a hell of a lot about the doctrine of brotherhood central to male friendships.
When we meet its three characters, Gerry (Warren Rusher), Steve (Matthew Blaney) and David (Tarik Badwan), the men are seated ’round a small table laden with near-empty pint glasses. As their observant guests, we’ve come into the middle of their Friday night drinking session and its confessional atmosphere, heightened by several rounds of their favourite golden brew. Gerry, in pensive mode, asks, ‘What’s the best pint you’ve ever had?’
No, it’s not the best-tasting pint he’s after, it’s the best pint that unlocked the essence of your very soul, the one that either makes or breaks you as a human being.
Each man plays out a recollection of a defining moment, pint in hand, when he’s had to confront his own measure as a human being. It’s an analogy that David, with his penchant for correctness, transfers to the 568 milliliters defining the measure of a true pint.
With Gerry, who expresses fatherly compassion to both Steve and David, we sense he’s had to learn life’s lessons through his own folly and the breakdown of his marriage. With Steve, it’s the insanity of a previous life as a drug user/dealer, and its predictable ending of incarceration and death. For David, it’s the unbearable pain of losing his beloved wife Emma to terminal cancer.
Heavy topics, yes, but told with huge splashes of humour, like the sloshes of beer on a tabletop during the inevitable confessions that follow a night of drinking.
If the three lads have a fault it’s Gerry’s unflinching support of Nottingham Forest Football Club, Steve’s shambolic history as a drug dealer and David’s need to always be right. Their characters are so impeccably realised by Rusher, Blaney and Badwan, that you feel you are the fourth sitting at the pub table with them.
But it is David’s recollection of the rough road he travels following his wife’s death and the moment – pint glass in hand – he’s able to accept her loss, while in a pub they both frequented, that will leave you weeping in your own pint, that is if you have one to hand while he tells his story.
The Best Pints plays on the 29th and the 30th of January. Journey down to enjoy a pint with them.
Or as they say in Ireland: Sláinte.
Review by Loretta Monaco
‘What’s the best pint you ever had?’And not just the best as in the ‘nicest’, but the one that “made a moment…enhanced an already great moment…comforted you in a moment of distress…just, in general, made your life better?” At one point or another – more than likely 10 pints deep in a bar called the ‘[insert random number here] Crowns’ – we’ve all asked our mates that question.
In FishMail Productions’ comedy play The Best Pints, directed by Kay Dent and written by Jack Gallagher, Gerry (Warren Rusher) poses that question to his two best friends Steve (Matthew Blaney) and David (Tarik Badwan) during their regular Friday night drinking session in their local pub.
What follows is the three best mates telling one another stories of parenthood, love, loss, addiction and the Yakuza (yes, that Yakuza).
After a sold-out performance at the White Bear Theatre, FishMail Productions brings The Best Pints to Hope Theatre in January 2023 to ask the question ‘what’s the best pint you ever had?’ all over again.
The Best Pints
The Hope Theatre, London, N1 1RL
Sun 22nd January 2023 – Mon 30th January 2023