Clarence Leong reviews
An average night at Aikman’s may be boisterous and full of chatter, but few nights will be as emotionally charged and vivid as this. As part of the largest student arts festival in Scotland, “On the Rocks”, Jim Cartwright’s “classic” two-handed play springs to life in St Andrews, and could not have offered a better chance for Frazer Hadfield and Emma Taylor to showcase their dramatic versatility and talents.
Written in 1989, Cartwright’s play displays a kaleidoscopic view of working-class life in a Northern local. The familiar walls, faint yellow glow of the lamps, round tables and shimmering beer taps (Bitburger, Aspall, Guinness…you name it) in Aikman’s slowly morph into the unfamiliar, as the Landlord and Landlady scurry across the room and take their positions behind the bar, at the start of what seemed like another ordinary night at the pub. The audience greets a myriad of characters as the tapestry of human lives unfurls, occasionally sipping at their drinks. It is a play with colourful contrasts, from cane-clinging old man to outfit-matching couple, unfulfilled mistress to flirting young man. They are all gathered here, whiling away the last hours of the day, taking respite in the pub and reward from the drink. These fleeting episodes culminate in the final climax; a young child who is separated from his father rushes into the pub, triggering painful memories of the Landlord couple’s dead son, whose anniversary is on this very day.
In her first appearance, Emma the Landlady cares more about people than profit, giving out free drinks to well-acquainted pub regulars. Later on, she embodies a host of different personalities. Her monologues are delivered with precision and affecting intensity. As an infirm old lady she is infatuated with the knife-wielding, animal-carving butcher; as the wife of a timid, emasculated husband she passionately declares her fetishism for “men with big-anything”. All said, her most impressive performance has to be the portrayal of the Landlady in the final scene, who is almost driven hysterical by grief. Her deafening glass-smashing acts are motivated by a strong desperation to come to terms with her 7-year-old son’s death, which has been the cause of the couple’s falling out. Her emotional outburst is crucial to forcing the Landlord to confront this painful past, having previously been reluctant and evasive. Emma handles this balance very well.
Frazer also proves that he has an extensive repertoire of impersonation. Due to the very setting of this play in the pub, the audience really gets up close to witness the varied action. Bedecked in his blue jacket, Frazer pulled up a chair beside the girl next to me and began a charm offensive that creates many amusing moments, only to be succeeded by some rather exceptional dance moves. If the Lizard is ever going to let good dancers get in for free, he is probably one. Putting on a leather jacket, Frazer becomes a mesmerisingly paranoid and sick husband, who orders his wife around and even slaps her, leaving all onlookers aghast. He is equally good as ‘fat fat Palomino’ in matching outfit with his wife (red beanie and bright blue raincoat), looking convincingly guileless and innocent. In the final scene, he returns to the role of Landlord and poignantly reminisces about their son. Silence descends as the lightswent out at the play’s closing.
As the room was relit, audience and cast alike were bothengulfed by enthusiastic applause, the walls of Aikman’s receding into the background. Many around me were still letting it all sink in. Their looks seemed to be saying: “Woah, what an emotional rollercoster that was!” And what a ride it was indeed.
Photo credit: https://www.facebook.com/events/832529590168487/