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The Nag’s Head at Park Theatre | Review

When the region in which the show is set is referred to as Shireshire (pronounced ‘shyer-sheer’) it’s indicative of the kind of schoolboy humour that permeates the production pretty much from beginning to end. Whilst I was able to continue to follow the increasingly absurdist plotline, however bizarre it became, I was smiling affirmatively at punchlines far more often than I was laughing at them – that is, I was amused, but not as amused as I would have liked to have been. Perhaps the narrative’s bare bones are more than a little formulaic: the family patriarch dies, so the offspring attempt to come together and honour his memory, but the three siblings have their different ways of doing things, which eventually leads to tensions.

The Nag's Head - credit Alice Chambers.
The Nag’s Head – credit Alice Chambers.

Jack (Felix Grainger) thinks Connor (Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson) knows next to nothing about his (Jack’s) life, having not had much, if any, contact in recent years: asked if Connor knows the name of Jack’s girlfriend, apparently of fifteen years, he refuses to concede he doesn’t know but his lack of an answer says it all. Sarah (Cara Steele) acts as judge in a session of ‘Sibling Council’, the trio’s family court, with its own set of rules and regulations (and, it would appear, amendments to those regulations). ‘Justice’, inverted commas mine, is swiftly administered, and there’s a favoured form of punishment, repeated in the second half at the end of a different session.

It’s overly fastidious, but it is better than shutting off communication altogether, which is what happens in some families, though it’s telling that methods used to resolve matters in childhood are still deployed by the siblings in adulthood. The play could be suggesting that they still have some maturing to do. A show evidently programmed to run either side of Halloween, there is suspected ghost activity (spoiler alert: the father does not return in the form of a ghost to tell his grown-up children to remember him) with sufficient twists and turns along the way.

It is not, ultimately, a fright-inducing production, and the brisk pace suits the youthful vigour of the characters. The main antagonist is a personification of ‘The Greene King’, who manages to persuade Sarah to start running her late father’s pub, ‘The Nag’s Head’ of the play’s title, as a gastropub that looks and feels the same as any other, a significant departure from her own early brainstorm about what the pub’s unique selling proposition(s) should be. A point is made, without subtlety, about how many independent pubs have gone to the wall in the last few years.

The use of ghosts for comedy effect does, on the whole, work well – one of the siblings even claims to have started a relationship with one. The set doesn’t always sufficiently change to make a scene look like its setting, and the play’s ending is so conclusive it rules out a sequel. At least this show could hardly be accused of leaving narrative ends untied, and in the end, it’s a couple of hours of harmless and playful escapism. The actors do well to bounce off one another’s energies in a production that knows not to take itself too seriously.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Do you believe in ghost stories? Do you want to hear tales that will chill you to the bone… that will make you wish you brought a spare set of pants?

After the death of their father, three estranged siblings return home for the funeral. Burdened with their dad’s failing pub and a weird painting, they must decide whether to work together to save The Nag’s Head or succumb to their inner demons.

With support from the Arts Council England, Shropshire Museum and the Norwich Theatre, Make It Beautiful Theatre Company presents their new dark comedy play: The Nag’s Head. Featuring original music from folk band Good Habits, and real paranormal accounts, this debut production is an ode to rural England and the independent pub.

Make It Beautiful Theatre Company in association with Park Theatre presents the UK premiere of
The Nag’s Head
By Felix Grainger & Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson

Directed by Alice Chambers

Plays: Tue 17 Oct – Sat 28 Oct 2023

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