I love a play and a pint on a Friday night. That sounds filthy but I’m honestly speaking in literal terms. Beartuza Theatre Company has moved its wonderfully wacky production, Night Voices, to the theatre of an East End boozer, Ye Olde Rose and Crown, with performances scheduled for a Friday night.
Prior to a recent launch event for CentrE17 in Walthamstow, I had never heard of Beartuza but a short taster of Night Voices left me eager to see the full production. Luckily, they didn’t cram all the show’s highlights into their teaser performance and the entire play is an enchanting escapade, as poignant as it is funny, with a playful and highly talented cast.
Directed by Nicola Wright, the show upholds a steady rhythm of mystery and humour, swinging between the two like a hypnotic pendulum to enrapture the audience. You never know where the plot is heading, certain only that you want to stay on board for the ride. This is because the narrative has an Alice in Wonderland quality, only our protagonist, Tommy, is an adult male who may or may not have a screw loose!
Kieran Parrott is believably neurotic as the pill-popping patient who follows a hobo, named Gaz, to find “where the mountains grow.” Their map’s a tad flawed (understatement!) yet Gaz manages to steer Tommy through a series of bizarre exploits.
Vicky Buxton and Laura Chetty are brilliantly bewitching as Gaz’s sidekicks, Han and Cass, but the real magic is provided by Phil Poole. As the writer of Night Voices and the actor playing Gaz, he skilfully delivers a character with enough charm and eccentricity to hook every spectator along with Tommy. The trust we place in Gaz, as an audience, is beautifully maintained, despite knowing he harbours many secrets, and may even be as vulnerable as the patient he’s leading.
Also surprising – and unexpectedly impressive – was the set. When I first took my seat in the pub’s large theatre space, I thought I was witnessing the pitfalls of performing in a local drinking hole. The stage area was flanked by all manner of props, junk and furniture, as if Beartuza had been denied any backstage storage. We weren’t too far along in the play when I realised it was an excellent tactic: are we looking into Tommy’s cluttered mind or is something else afoot? The show had me guessing throughout.
It helps that the cast keeps the unpredictability going with inventive methods for introducing and removing different props from each scene. There’s a superb puppet made from “a Primark bag”, as well as an impractical bar counter and a thick moustache made from duct tape! The overall wackiness plunges you deep into the adventure, allowing you to experience the same incredulity Tommy displays as he tags behind Gaz.
The musical numbers are pleasant, though sparse, and not especially memorable. The show could do with a strong set of pipes, although none of the actors are particularly bad singers – just don’t expect them to raise the roof off a church!
An inventive tale with a heart-tugging message, Beartuza has set the bar high with Night Voices. Whatever they do next, I’d like to be first in the queue to see it.
Cast: Vicky Buxton, Laura Chetty, Kieran Parrott, Phil Poole and Patrick McCormack Theatre: Ye Olde Rose & Crown, 53-55 Hoe St, Walthamstow, London, E17 4SA Writer: Phil Poole Director: Nicola Wright Performance Dates: 22nd September 2017