Pros: Adorable, hilarious characters in a fun and vibrant roller-diner setting (minus roller-skates). Funny moments are in abundance and the cast are superb.
Cons: The politics behind the show are very blatant, but its comment is ambiguous.
Roller Diner, the winner of the Soho Theatre’s prestigious Verity Bargate Award for new writing, is set in Eddie Costello’s authentic American diner… in Birmingham. It is a hub of sticky ketchup and family spats (but not customers, as it would seem). When Marika rocks up, determined to give the diner the turn-around of its life, Eddie falls hook-line-and-sinker for her charm and alleged aptitude for business planning.
Roller Diner plays with the notions of ‘home’, of who belongs where, and the suspicions that people can have towards each other. To put it bluntly, each character is a bit of a stereotype: the Polish migrant who steals the chance of managerial responsibility from Eddie’s daughter; the 19-year-old Chantal who speaks in text speak riddles and likes to shop; Eddie himself, the middle-aged man who will put his head in the sand for the chance to be with a pretty woman. Normally I’d balk at typing such generalisations, but there is no doubt that Stephen Jackson has written them intentionally.
The production seems to want to make a statement about the truth of politics on ground level, through an ‘every-day’ setting, but the play doesn’t carry its intentions far enough. I really tried to find the crux of the point the production was trying to make. The log-line for Roller Diner is: ‘Home of the Full English Brexit’, and it makes big assumptions to highlight this, not least the assumption that a migrant worker must have something to hide, to come into the lives of the Costello family and take, take, take from them. The play does highlight the rifts that we know are present in British society, but there doesn’t seem to be a conclusion that allows the characters to break free from the boxes they have been placed in along the way.
The musical interludes, for me, didn’t really add anything to the performance. They come in short bursts, one after another, and then you forget about them for a while. Sometimes their relevance is a bit unclear, Dance the Libido being a good example. This is a shame as the opening number by Eddie (the pitch-perfect Joe Dixon) is heart-breakingly beautiful. The cast have some serious vocal skills between them, but the songs could perhaps be better placed along the way to make the narrative a little clearer.
All of this said, the play is extremely comical throughout and this helps to carry the show. The cast all perform their roles to a tee and with the passionate commitment that I am becoming used to seeing at the Soho Theatre. Rina Fantania gives a stunning performance as the unapologetically bolshie Jean; Ricky Oakley as PJ acts a committed, hilarious parody of a teenage boy. The set is also a highlight, although it could have looked a little grubbier towards the beginning, before Marika came in and restored it to the shiny jukebox it once was. The lights, by Philip Gladwell, are a treat; delicious pinks and reds dancing around the characters.
I fully endorse the need for discussion around the themes that this play discusses, but the show feels too jam-packed with plot points and it is quite hard for an audience to anchor onto the story. All of this said, Roller Diner is a fun, energetic production. The characters carry the show along on the strength of their personality and the cast do a brilliant job of bringing them to larger-than-life.
Author: Stephen Jackson
Director: Steve Marmion
Produced by: Soho Theatre
Booking until: Saturday 24th June
Box Office: 020 7478 0100
Booking Link: www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/roller-diner