Drinking In Circles — Reviews

London

Time Out (Critic's Choice)

July 9, 1997

Dominic Cavendish

'I'm bored,' a man slouching at a bar-table announces to a complete stranger. 'Bored enough to consider the implications of death.' Wait a minute, you think, isn't it just such a scene that I've come, pint in hand, to escape? The monotony, described by this neurotic Mr Average - wife, kids, steady job, full-blown mid-life crisis - is as familiar as a hangover, but Canadian writer Robert William Sherwood has a trick up his sleeve. In a Faustian pact between the two men, sad Paul (Morgan Symes) gets cash upfront for a six-month bender, to be paid back through his life insurance premium when the other, Frank (suave Paul Goodwin) kills him. If this were a Hollywood movie (and don't rule it out folks), we'd no doubt get un embarras de richesses - night clubs, poolsides, dollar bills flung out of windows - but Sherwood puts all the action in the dialogue, as Paul's grand exit goes awry.

The exchanges are Hal Hartley-esque, quick-switching from sarcasm and portentous truism to paradoxical, quasi-philosophical observation, constantly battening down the emotional hatches. Sometimes, the words ring as hollow as an empty cask of ale, but as the narrative unfolds - and Frank's punchbag partner Karen (Holley Chant), herself tryng to break loose, becomes Paul's nemesis - we are drawn into Frank's bleak view of the world as a sort of perpetual bar crawl.

There's fine acting all round (under Michael Kingsbury's direction), even from Corinne Jordan, who spends the evening mopping the bar before delivering an unfortunate concluding speech straight out of 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus'. Take some change with you, you might need a drink afterwards.

The Financial Times

July 16, 1997

Ian Shuttleworth

Canadian playwright Robert William Sherwood's work has attracted considerable praise on its two previous showings at the White Bear in Kennington, south London. Drinking In Circles confirms that he is a writer worth attention

The proceedings begin in a bar, where two men are chatting aimlessly about life in a manner reminiscent of the early scenes of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. Sherwood's characters, although they behave like ordinary folk, possess a slightly exaggerated lexicon, expressing sentiments like "I misgive". Frank and Paul's hyper-real discussion develops to the point where the latter offers to sell his life insurance policy to the former in return for a percentage of its sum upfront and six months of extravagant life, after which Frank may kill him. Suddenly the Mametian atmosphere becomes Faustian.

We then see Frank breaking up with Karen in the same bar, followed by Karen's challenges to Paul to define and demonstrate his love for her. Sherwood treats characterisation not as an organic whole, but shows us a series of facets of these people's personalities whereby Cubist portraits of their characters are built up: Holley Chant's Karen, for instance, is grave and stressed with Frank, and alternately coy and coolly domineering with Paul, who in turn moves in Morgan Symes's performance from despair to assurance to bewilderment

Director Michael Kingsbury does not try either to impose an overall perspective upon characters nor to unify their vocabulary and delivery. Paul Goodwin's Frank shifts from deliberate underplaying againt Paul (whom he assures, "You can trust me like you can trust your dawg") to an extravagant delight in his words, as he luxuriates sinisterly in his turns of phrase.

We only ever see exchanges in the blue-painted bar-room, as if the important events of life have been banished by it; indeed, frequent contrasts drawn by all three characters between "this bar" and life outside it, indicate that the bar symbolises the paralysed quotidian - everything important is elsewhere, and can only be discussed futilely within its walls. In the final scene, hitherto silent barmaid Yvonne delivers a muted coda to the solitary Karen.

Sherwood's writing and Kingsbury's direction negotiate skilfully between the human sentiments expressed by the characters and the distorted manner and setting in which they are expressed. It is akin to watching a naturalistic drama through a fish-eye lens, and it is a gratifying experience.