It’s a familiar scene: a small area clad in decking; an unneeded Fosters’ parasol on the floor; a wooden bench table, ashtrays. James Perkins’ design for Eventide is as British as a mug of builder’s tea, as immediately identifiable as the profile of the Queen. This is the pub ‘garden’, the preserve of the dirty and banished smoker, that area where the most interesting and meaningful conversations almost always take place.
John is just about the most convincing pub landlord I’ve ever met (and I’ve met gazillions of them). Unfalteringly, John’s got an obvious but very well-delivered joke up his sleeve; he’s a chirpy chap who understands what his customer wants. Most definitely second generation London-Irish, he’s a big, likeable bloke with an aching heart, a broken marriage, a failing pub and a fondness for the drink. James Doherty knows that we know his character, who he plays with frightening believability.
John’s younger friend, Mark, is also wracked with inner pain, lamenting a lost love that never really was and struggling to earn a living in this declining village, lost in rural Hampshire. Hasan Dixon’s Mark is subtle and he keeps a lid on his emotions for a long time but we can read his frustration, it’s there in his eyes, in his shrug of indifference.
And sweet, effervescent Liz. With less of a backstory, she tries to gives the two men hope on her increasingly irregular visits to the pub garden via the local church, the only place that will give her a gig as an organist. Ellie Piercy gives Liz an edge of the nervous, naive girl wrapped up in a wise and caring woman (it’s extremely difficult to place this actor’s age as she appears to be completely different before and after the interval; very odd).
Between them, Doherty, Dixon and Piercy deliver Barney Norris’ words with excruciating honesty, each trying to find a silver lining in these lives that are simply being played out and, depressingly, not really ‘lived’ at all. None of them ever plays the victim and they are accepting of their lot with grim inevitability. They don’t search desperately for solid solutions that won’t (and don’t!) come, as if they realise that the hurt evident in every twitch of the face, every tinkle of a moist eye, will never completely disappear. There is a lot of humour in Eventide, particularly in the first half, when there is still perhaps a belief that life will become great for our three friends (and they really do feel like friends, people you know) in Norris’ character-led play.
Eventide is contemporary – a lament to the disappearance of the independent pub, being sold off to the ubiquitous chain, of the Manor House given a makeover by property developers, of local people pushed out by the wealthy, to such an extent that the young are forced to live in the town and commute to their village for employment. It’s about the lives of the people who serve everyone else, those who fix the infrastructure, pour our pints, teach our kids. I was reminded of Victoria Coren’s recent solution to the uncontrollably escalating house prices in London, where she suggested that Londoners desert the city so that the super-rich are left with no-one to actually run the place. Genius.
Alice Hamilton has done excellent work in directing Eventide, blending the acting and the writing together so seamlessly that you could forget you’re watching a piece of fiction. It’s all so very real, not one ‘fuck’ or ‘wanker’ is used gratuitously, everything is contextual.
And, John, you really are a lovely man but Liz is right – you can also be a right tosser!
Eventide shows at Brewery Theatre until 14th November