Edinburgh Fringe 2021
An anarchic, absurdist comedy revealing all (well, nearly all) the back room shenanigans of the pub trade.
Pubs play an important part in Norfolk life, particularly the independent ones that rely on a combination of regular locals and passing tourists for trade and who often provide an outlet for the range of craft brewing companies that have established a foothold in the ultra-competitive beer/lager market over the last decade or so. Stemming the march of the mega-brewers can be a real challenge though, especially when they come waving fistfuls of cash at impecunious landlords.
This dilemma inspired Alasdair Lindsay, Tom Rowntree, Alexander Wiseman, and Jack Oldcorn (four graduates from University of East Anglia with presumably in-depth knowledge of the Norfolk pub scene) to write and then perform Drown Your Sorrows, an absurdist comedy revealing all (well, nearly all) the back room shenanigans of the pub trade.
The main plot sees the quartet chasing around the county trying to solve the increasingly cryptic clues to the whereabouts of “The Elixir of Life”, left to one of their number by their pub’s recently deceased owner, referred to mysteriously throughout as “Madmoiselle”.
Solving the puzzle is the key to keeping the pub independent and out of the clutches of Scrooge’s grandson, a wonderful caricature of the head of a large corporate pub chain with the habit of plonking look-a-like establishments featuring cliched names in the middle of towns and villages (no prizes for guessing who the writers were taking a pot shot at here).
To describe this as a madcap hour of absurdist, slapstick comedy and farce would do a disservice to all those involved. The pace was relentless, the plot had more hairpin bends than a steep mountain pass and character lines were fired at the occasionally bewildered looking audience with the frequency and speed of machine gun bullets.
Fortunately, it was relatively easy to see the essential points the quartet were trying to convey – that life as a minimum wage bartender can be pretty unforgiving, that your friends, your community are (or should be) more important than the monetisation of opportunities.
A few of the lines got lost in the excitement and the bewildering and eclectic mass of props occasionally ended up confusing rather than clarifying but this show has potential. It might also benefit a bit from tighter editing – what I thought was a clever and fitting denouement was actually the prelude to another ten minutes worth of plot twisting and turning.
But most of the audience seemed to connect with most of what was happening in front of them so, for these reasons, it merits a “good show” tag. Give it a punt if you’re up for an hour of post-modernist absurdity.