Thursday, February 4, 2016

'Swing By Around 8' at the Bread & Roses Theatre, 3rd February 2016

I've got a pretty good sixth sense for impending theatrical crapitude. One man vanity productions are a classic bad omen, as are plays entirely based around tortuous metaphors and am-dram Shakespeare. The 'classic English farce' is another giant red light, a soup of cripplingly bourgeois bubble-wrapped quasi-humour that generally feels like you're watching an prime time ITV sitcom circa 1988.

So, alarm bells were blaring as I sat down for Jessica Bray's Swing By Around 8, which ominously promised "an unconventional dinner party full of innuendoes, miscommunication and wine". As anticipated, what followed was crammed with masturbatory middle-class wibbling, a cast of thinly sketched archetypes and, of course, a veritable avalanche of crappy innuendoes. 

But, crucially, mercifully and sixth sense defyingly, it was funny.

Katherine and Matt (Elizabeth Lloyd Raynes and Donncha Kearney) are having relationship problems. They're in their early 30s and, after being together for nine years, things have started to go a bit stale. To spice things up a bit they've decided to dip their toes in the murky waters of swinging. Enter (via a mutual friend) Amelia and Elliot (Laura McKee and Jonathan McGarrity).

With a dinner party all set to go and a mood-setting playlist cued up, the two couples get to know one another. Almost instantly, Katherine and Matt have a quiet crisis, their guests have brought their dog and seem oblivious to the oncoming orgy. Is it possible that they don't know? Do they think they're at a regular dinner party? How on earth do you ask and maintain a sense of polite decorum. What will the neighbours think?

Billed at an hour but coming in closer to fifty minutes, Swing By Around 8 is a brief and breezy play that's unlikely to lodge in the memory for long. Every character is sketched broadly and, while there's semblances of narrative arcs, they abruptly terminate. Theoretically we're supposed to care whether Katherine and Matt work through their problems - their desperate scrabbling to maintain the relationship is presented sincerely - but by the curtain pretty much everything is left unresolved.

It's on the strength of its jokes that the play relies, and for the most part, here it succeeds. Swing By Around 8 is hardly Oscar Wilde - the tone can best summarised by Bray's ruthless mining of every comedy atom from the word 'spatchcock'. Still, though the set-up might be creaky and the punchlines visible a mile off, they work: I laughed.

Much of this is down to a cast who all have well-developed funnybones. Kearney in particular as a nice line in aloof disbelief, getting a decent amount of mileage his well pitched deadpan reactions, Raynes provides an effectively strained eroticism and awkwardness that never fails to amuse and McGarrity has a nice line in smarmy lotharioness. 

My fave was Laura McKee, who also impressed in last December's Full Circle. She's got an nice loose-limbed physicality which adds a kinetically comedic element to her performance. The funniest bit of the play is her drunken cod-flirtiness with a policeman (Sam Blake) that she believes to be a strippergram. It's just straightforward and direct comedy - and works gangbusters.

Swing By Around 8 isn't rewriting the comedy rulebook. It's not even suggesting any edits. Were there not references to wireless speakers and the internet you could imagine this as a restaged production from the 1970s and no-one would be any the wiser.

That said, it's light, undemanding and has brevity on it's side. Most importantly it's funny. There are few things worse than an unfunny comedy, but this wrung more than a couple of genuine giggles from me. So, a success. A safe and unambitious success, but a success nonetheless.


Swing By Around is at the Bread & Roses Theatre until February 6th.

Photos by David Loveday

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