Traverse @ Barony Bar, Edinburgh
Thom Dibdin - Annals Of Edinburgh STage
Published: 9 February 2012
4 stars ****
Having enthralled audiences and critics alike at the Fringe in 2009, Grid Iron’s Barflies, an adaptation of a clutch of Charles Bukowski’s writings, now sets out to prove its worth outside the rarified festival atmosphere.
And on viewing it at its original home, the Barony Bar on Edinburgh’s Broughton Street, it is clear that the wedge of awards and nominations it carries in its back pocket is no product of the Fringe Bends, but the true appreciation of a genuinely engaging piece of work.
Keith Fleming reprising his role as Bukowski’s alter ego, Henry Chinaski, is a drooling, wretched drunk whose words fly up into beautiful, earthy poetry. Here is a man whose memory of his first lost love will allow no other to enter his tortured life.
It is a fine, easy performance, at once slovenly yet sharply observed and completely in control. With the opening scene starting out in a drawling American accent, the only slight niggle is the way his accents migrates – by design – to a Scottish accent.
New performer Charlene Boyd is magnificent as she sets out Henry’s first love, Cas – from the title story of theThe Most Beautiful Woman in the Town collection. Boyd is Fleming’s equal in snapping from inebriated devastation to controlled anger on the turn of a glass. I found myself cringing in horror at her self mutilation – having to constantly remind myself that I was watching a performance.
Boyd’s creation of the further barflies of Henry’s acquaintance is not quite so detailed or successful. Her hectoring Vicki in particular being over caricatured, although her creation of two women in the same bar, Vicki and the posh fox fur-bedecked Margy – ignored by her husband in Fife – is easily done.
What Boyd does bring is a previously underplayed dominating presence, so that the creation of the Witch, Sarah, in the story 6 Inches is utterly enthralling. From wild bar-top humping to the realisation that Henry has shrunk so much that, to paraphrase Burns at his most bawdy, he is to be the six inch to please a lady, is an exquisitely grotesque ride. It’s also there in Vivienne, the liver-eating publisher who wants to rule Henry’s life. Outwardly douce, there is a menace to her and an underlying sexuality which is only hinted at.
All the while David Paul Jones provides a soundtrack from the pub piano, and slips behind the bar to serve drinks with all the disdain of a professional barkeep as Silent Dave. It’s a pleasure to hear his renditions of The Piano Has Been Drinking and Lilac Wine, while his Green Grow the Rashes O’ which finishes the whole piece just emphasises the validity of placing Bukowski in a Scottish bar.
Then there is Becky Minto’s design. Much of which is invisible in the bar, but the best of which catches your eyes as the production proceeds. A neon sign behind the bar isn’t for an anodyne American lager. It lights up for a Sloe-fuck. And then there’s the beer clips on the hand-pulls at the bar. Clips for ales such as Pert Ass Ipa, Cum XXX – which we are assured is full flavour – and Old Shag.
All told, this is another triumph from Grid Iron. A production which gets the details exactly right, as director Ben Harrison’s adaptation takes you out on to the edge of madness, shows you the view and asks whether you really have the bottle to jump.
Traverse @ Barony Bar, Edinburgh
Joyce McMillan - The Scotsman
Published: 10 August 2009
4 stars ****
It's no secret, for example, that it was the oblivion option that attracted Charles Bukowski, whose wild and fantastical stories about life on the booze in Los Angeles are celebrated in Barflies, the latest show from Scotland's leading magicians of site-specific theatre, Edinburgh-based Grid Iron.
Staged in the company's much-loved local bar, The Barony, Ben Harrison's 75-minute version of Bukowski's world deals with death all right: its pivotal event is the tragic suicide of Cass, the wild woman who is the lover, obsession, and drinking companion of our hero, Bukowski's alter ego Henry Chinaski. But Henry responds not with moping and despair, but with an ever more urgent rage to grab life as it comes – even when it includes women like shrieking Vicky, with a voice like a hatchet, or Sarah the witch, who shrinks him into a six-inch dildo.
Harrison's version of the story has a slightly sentimental narrative shape – good women were not really put on Earth just to redeem men like Henry – and I don't know whether his decision to give Bukowksi a Broughton Street accent really works; this is an American tale to the core. But Keith Fleming and Gail Watson, as Henry and all his women, give this tale of booze and sex such hell that it's difficult to argue with sheer life-force of the show, which floats along on a boozy tide of delicious music from barman/pianist David Paul Jones, in a gleaming Barony which has never looked more beautiful, or more mythical.