4/5 Stars

★★★★ Fear and Loathing in Birmingham

Simon Ward reviews Skin In The Game at The Old Red Lion Theatre

Photo credit Stephanie Claire Photography

Watching plays in pub theatres is often an intense experience. The enforced intimacy of actors performing just inches away can be claustrophobic. And if there is tension in the air, it crackles. So it is with this new play, written by and starring Paul Westwood. He brings a distinctly Brummie wit, scabrous energy and verbal dexterity to bear on a story which might otherwise be relentlessly grim.

Three siblings gather in their father’s high rise flat ostensibly to organise the paperwork for selling it to pay for his care home fees. As the conversation evolves, the simmering tensions between the siblings start to emerge. Jamie (Paul Westwood) has been living in the flat and doing the caring for the old man, while Danny (Charlie Allen) and Michelle (Kathryn O’Reilly) are busily preoccupied with their own complicated lives.

All the characters are damaged in one way or another – they all seem to be involved in taking and dealing drugs; none of their relationships have worked out; there is a sense of discontent if not downright misery underneath the bluster and bravado. Yet they are thrown together by the bonds of family and shared responsibility for their parent. Plus there is the prospect of some money from the sale of the flat… But Jamie has a gambling problem and nothing is quite as it seems.

As their expectations start to unravel the full depth of the lies which all the characters tell to themselves, to each other and to the rest of the world becomes apparent

As Danny, Charlie Allen oozes menace with every word he says, however jovial. You sense he is capable of ruthless violence, even as he smiles and jokes. The shifting alliances of siblings are well captured here – Danny and Michelle gang up on Jamie until he turns the tables on them for their lack of help and support with their Dad. But Michelle then tries to protect Jamie when Danny turns on him. And when their father (David Whitworth) does appear we finally get an inkling of where some of those seeds of dysfunction have been sown.

No doubt aided by a summer spent touring, the show is taut and the playing sharp and expertly choreographed by director Clemmie Reynolds.

Photo credit Stephanie Claire Photography

Skin In The Game runs at The Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington until 14th September.

Categories: 4/5 Stars, review

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