Pros: Excellent new writing that makes you laugh and think, with performances to match.
Cons: The surreal, dark comedy and a bizarre ending can be quite disturbing and jarring.
Set entirely in part of a pub, Mugs Arrows starts with an introduction sequence of a series of spotlights highlighting individual props: a hat on a wall, a couple of pints, a glass of darts and the like. Visually striking yet incredibly simple, it immediately creates tension that carries on through the entire play and keeps the audience watching. The lights then come up on two men tensely playing a game of darts without speaking. Both are wearing suits, but each wears a comedy hat. As dialogue slowly starts, we gather that the two have just been to the funeral of a dear friend. The writing is sparse, simple and touches on absurdity. Both Rhys King (Pat) and Eddie Elks (Ed) are clearly excellent performers who can skilfully use naturalism to create highly developed characters.
What you perceive to be true is turned upside down when Sarah (Chiara Wilde) enters in a wedding dress and joins in darts game. Rather than a funeral, Pat and Ed have lost their best mate another way. The mood shifts: does Pat have a history with Sarah? He is cold and uncomfortable, almost to the point of rude. The dialogue is still simple and sparse but incredibly well timed. We learn that Sarah is a city girl, and the lads are simple country folk averse to change. This inevitably creates conflict, which in the simplicity of the issues raised, increases the absurdity. With an inevitable violent end and convincing stage combat by Lyndall Grant, I thought the play had ended.
But, no! Writer Eddie Elks surprises us. A final, joyfully weird scene takes everything you perceive to be real within the action and turns it upside down. You will leave with a head full of questions, but truly innovative theatre will have that effect. Mugs Arrows is predominately grounded in reality, but as soon as you feel comfortable with that, something will happen to challenge that perception. The dramatic structure is skilfully sound but bounces between several styles (naturalism, surrealism, absurdity and Beckett-like) rather than being limited by one. Whilst an incredible show for theatre folk, those who like their theatre conventional and commercial would struggle to watch this play.
The set, by director Ken McClymont, is well built but simple. If this is a show on a budget, it does a good job of hiding it. McClymont and Elks have clearly worked as a team to find direction that suits the writing perfectly. I cannot find a way that either the writing or direction could be improved. The performances are of the same calibre. Go see this show before it closes if cutting edge independent theatre is your thing.
Writer: Eddie Elks
Director: Ken McClymont
Producer: Third Man Theatre
Booking until: 21 June 2014