Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Ablutions is adapted from the novel by Man Booker shortlisted author, Patrick DeWitt. A dark, boozy tale from the sodden depths of the LA underworld, blending a live soundtrack, detailed mime and DeWitt’s heart-wrenching humour.
Ablutions is a play with a lot of style and just about enough substance. Based on a novel by Patrick Dewitt it is a sad tale of alcoholism, loneliness and desire for escape. It is set in a bar in California, but it could be anywhere, anywhere a no hope barman drinks his life away, watching the tragic men around him stagger through the years in bleary eyed narcotic stupors.
The small cast of four play all the parts, our central barman remaining in role, two other performers singing and shifting to take on other characters, and a final cast member underscoring the whole thing with music. The musical element is integral to the piece and they use it to great effect to create set, atmosphere and to tell the story. With it’s discordant sounds the music helps to define the style of the piece which is somewhere between film noir and gangster movie.
The performers are very engaging, despite the fact they play many parts, they differentiate between them well, using clear physical signs and different accents. They manage to make the shifting between singing and acting very natural, so it doesn’t feel remotely forced or clunky.
The play gives us a glimpse into the lives of so many; the barflies drawn to the dubious ‘community’ of drinkers, spurring each other on, watching each other crumble and having little or no strength or desire to help. The story’s protagonist is almost an Everyman, a person you have heard about a hundred times – they drink too much, they lose their wife, they get into petty crime. We see all this play out for us, and are asked to make our own decisions about what we think. Ablutions doesn’t present a hero or even an anti-hero and this barman doesn’t inspire huge amounts of pity or praise. Whilst in some ways this worked to make a point, it also meant that a certain amount of tension was lost and it might have been nice to be inspired to care a little more.