Mugs Arrows*** (Old Red Lion Theatre)

Posted: June 6, 2014 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews –

Wearing dark suits and ties, Pat and Ed enter the empty lounge bar of a pub in the Peak District, don a fez and a straw hat respectively and begin their game of darts. It is clear that they have come from a solemn event and the pub is their haven from the worries of the world, a place where they can soothe their minds by going through the repetitive, rhythmic actions of stepping up to the oche alternately and slinging their arrows. So begins Eddie Elks’ one act play, described as a black comedy, in which barely a word is spoken for the first five minutes. It is slow, very slow to get going, but then it gains momentum as the characters open up and reveal more of themselves. Pat has a father suffering from dementia, has gone through a failed marriage and, earlier in the day, has run over a cat outside the crematorium. Ed is jobless and hides a very dark secret. Their interaction switches between bonhomie and aggression, but their darts match is hardly competitive, just a means to deactivate their troubled brains. Elks’ writing is full of mordant humour, bringing to life what would otherwise be mundane conversation, and he has a neat way of springing the unexpected on us, thereby giving the play an edgy feel and accentuating tensions which are simmering beneath the surface. Rhys King gives a very strong performance, playing Pat as a man close to breaking point, repeatedly referring to the deaths of animals as if his own existence is similarly imperilled – the squashed cat, a dog dead from an excess of vodka, head butting goats, a beak-less chicken and sheep trapped by a late Winter snowfall which results in a Spring of “crocuses and carcasses”. The writer himself plays Ed as a man whose macho exterior masks a deep inner fragility. The arrival of Sarah (Chiara Wilde) threatens the sanctuary which Pat and Ed have found. Coming from Guildford, she plans to replace real ale and pies with cocktails and tapas, repaint the pub in Egyptian blue and refurnish it. She taunts and teases the men, but will her plans be enough to tip them over the edge? The play builds to a startling and dramatic conclusion. Ken McClymont’s production does well in sustaining the fine balance between comedy and drama until reaching an overdone climax which culminates in a surreal sequence of physical theatre. This adds nothing to the play, but, once it has been overlooked, it is the inventive writing and truthful characterisations that linger in the memory.

Performance date: 5 June 2014

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