Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Life though the bottom of a glass

Flashpoint: Mark Earey and Linda Phillips as the warring, bickering landlord and lady who have  an unspoken, unfaced past which is eating away at their lives


Moorpool Players

The Moorpool Hall, Harborne


PERHAPS Jim Cartwright's celebrated two-hander from 1989 should have been renamed 14 for this Moorpool production with a different actor for each of the myriad of characters that populate Cartwright's working class Northern pub.

Not that that detracts from a play that is a collection of snapshots of regulars, all linked in some way beyond their habit of knocking them back in the local.

We have the old woman, played with matter of fact despair by Tricia Martin, bemoaning caring for her invalid, incontinent husband who she sees as taking away what is left of her life. Her early evening drink in the pub at the end of the day is her reward, her only pleasure,

Then there is John Healey as the old man whose wife is still with him, even though she has died. He gets his comfort from still feeling her presence, it helps him face a life of lonliness.

We have Moth, played by Richard Quarmby, who sees himself as God's gift to women, or indeed anything vaguely female with a pulse.

He no so much uses girlfriend Maudie, played by Laura King, as lives off her body and soul until his Saturday Night Fever moment by the juke box turns into Casualty and suddenly put-upon Maudie has the upper hand as he has the cream crackered lower back.

No such luck for Lesley, though, played by Caroline Alderton, under the thum and probably fist of Roy, played by Andrew Miles, one of life's inadequates, taking his own failings and frustrations out on his wife.

Love hurts in the hands and fists of  Roy, played by Andrew Miles with abused Lesley played by Caroline Alderton

She is cowed and submissive, frightened of her own shadow not so much accepting her relationship with the bullying Roy as being terrified not to which makes her explosion all the more dramatic. He is insanely jealous, paranoid, refuses to believe anything Lesley says, with any answer to even the simplest question treated with hostility and suspicion. He oozes nastiness and perhaps a slap or punch before his final sinister warning might have jolted the audience out of any mistaken idea they had been watching a comedy.

As a contrast we have Mr and Mrs Iger, played by Liz Bridgewater and Andrew Miles.

Miles is the only doubled up actor and shows not only a quick change of clothes but an impressive change of character from thug to hen pecked in the blink of an eye.

Mrs Iger is a domineering woman who tells us, and her husband, in no uncertain terms that she likes big, commanding men and spends her life barking out orders and belittling her small and remarkable meek husband who even when he exerts his miniscule authority – taking drinks for the untended bar – get it wrong and gets it in the neck. But for all their differences we find that there is still an underlying affection there.

Our final couple among the customers is Alice and . . . one would have expected Fred from the original but he is unheralded and instead we have a man played by Des Lea who acts as a foil, a silent partner for many of the characters, who sits in silence as Alice rambles on.

Sam Bloxham does a good job but somehow the pathos and humour of the scene of a couple who are content, or at least have accepted their lot, has become lost without Fred.

Maudie, played by Laura King, finds the way to a mans heart, at least in the case of her boyfriend Moth, played by Richard  Quarmby, is through his knackered back 

Alice is not nature's brightest, has a fixation on Elvis, TV and old westerns and perhaps a few psychiatric issues that could be looked at but she comes over a bit too much as a nutter we can dismiss rather than as a real person introduced to us by Cartwright.

As a monologue without the interaction with Fred it never really works.

Mary Ruane then gives us the other woman, the bit of stuff on the side, tight blouse and even tighter leather skirt, who is there to confront the married man with who she is having an affair as he drinks in the pub with his wife.

We know she is on a loser and ultimately so does she as she lets him leave without any attempt at confrontation – a bit still on the side.

The final character is supposedly a young boy, played by Dan Birch, which never quite comes off. This penultimate scene of the young lad who had been left on the steps of the pub with a bottle of pop and a bag of crisps, who thinks he has been forgotten by his dad is critical – it is the catalyst to what follows, the dramatic final scene.

Yet somehow it didn't quite work, those not familiar with the play would hardly understand or recognize that this was a young lad abandoned by a parent – the trigger to open the floodgates to the seven years or hate, despair and anguish that was to follow.

Dan also plays a homeless man, not in the original play, who seems to drift from scene to scene which perhaps does not help with characterization as the young boy when we have already seen him hanging around in the bar wolfing down a hand-out cheese sandwich. Nothing at all wrong with the performance, it just needs more visual help for the audience to see we are seeing the tears and pleas of a young boy.

Whether that scene works or not it still brings us to the real stars of this show Mark Eavey as the gaffer and Linda Phillips as the landlady, he a keep the till tinkling man, she chatting with the customers, the friendly landlady, friendly to anyone but her husband.

They have been the cement holding the whole thing together from the start, running the pub, dealing with the customers and bickering and sniping with each other.

Andrew Miles finds himself on the other side of bullying as Mr Iger under the manicured thumb of Mrs Iger played by Liz Bridgewater

It is only in the final emotional scene when we find why and if you think what went before was good this final scene leaves everything else in its wake. The pair are just outstanding, acting of the highest order which left a few eyes glistening as their tragic tale unfolded.

John Bolt on lighting did a good job, highlighting monologues and duolgues unobtrusively while Tax Mason, John Healey and Brian Phillips, who was also responsible for sound, deserve a huge pat on the back for an excellent set which was a close as you will get to an 80's pub without having to apply for a licence.

Director Debbie Scattergood has done a good job in tying it all together with a cast increased by a factor of seven. With a cast of just two there is a natural continuity, an obvious unity as the same actors display the chameleon art of theatre.

With a cast of 14 keeping it as a whole play rather than a collection of disparate scenes became that much harder and she and her cast managed it with some style – and we can all raise a glass to that.

Roger Clarke 

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