Saturday, 14 June 2014

Theatre review: Mugs Arrows

One of those shows that's very hard to say anything about without the risk of spoilers, Eddie Elks' Mugs Arrows features two men in suits and a woman in a wedding dress. The Old Red Lion pub has encroached on the little theatre upstairs, where Ken McClymont's set has done a nice job of recreating a pub in the middle of nowhere, surrounded only by fields and livestock. It's long after hours but the two men in the bar are friends of the landlord's, who's gone to bed after a big day. Ed (Elks) and Pat (Rhys King) play darts and exchange cryptic remarks about their friend, the day that's just passed, and their own lives which have had some difficult recent times, until they're joined by Sarah (Chiara Wilde,) who wants to join in the game. Her smiley, enthusiastic friendliness make no difference to the mix of discomfort and hostility the two men show towards her.

The Old Red Lion has regularly staged the works of Philip Ridley, so the mix of oddness, sudden violence, and menace with a vague hint of the supernatural about it feels at home on its stage, but Mugs Arrows never quite has the sense of purpose or inner logic of Ridley's plays.

It's well-performed, Wilde in particular contributing a particular brand of sinister enthusiasm, and always entertaining to watch. But although the play reveals itself to be a riff on men threatened when a woman gets between them and one of their friends, anything more specific remains elusive: Elks' style is surreal to the point of being wilfully obscure, and it kept me from becoming entirely involved in the story. It's also not quite the black comedy the publicity would suggest - there's some strong moments of humour here, but really it's a sometimes very dark drama, with a number of animals coming to unpleasant ends in the anecdotes Pat and Ed recount. The production, though, which McClymont also directs, is taut and has some moments of eerie tension, and the opening sequence, lit by Christopher Nairne and introducing us to the space, is very cleverly conceived and perfectly executed.

Mugs Arrows by Eddie Elks is booking until the 21st of June at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

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