Pros: There are some excellent comic performances to enjoy in this eccentric and essentially heartfelt production.
Cons: I found most of the characters pretty difficult to warm to, and the running time could be cut considerably.
Mouldy Grapes, the debut production from new theatre company Break The ‘Verse, takes place over the course of (presumably) a few weeks, in a poky flat shared by perpetual love-rat Liam, and his boyfriend/pet/somewhere in between (Liam’s words, not mine), the insufferably kooky and cripplingly agoraphobic Roo. When Liam brings back a girl, Jessica, for a one night stand, it sparks a cycle of lies, love triangles, and countless onstage makeouts.
Despite its overtly comic tone – and there are some very, very funny moments, for which we can largely thank Adam Willis’ exceptional performance as the shy, stammering landlord Paul – at its heart Mouldy Grapes feels like a sincere and pretty interesting exploration of four people coming to terms with their different wants, desires and actions.
The problem is, with the exception of the aforementioned Paul, the characters are all very difficult to like. Roo, played with vulnerability and charm by Monty Jones, spends much of the play behaving like a facile imbecile while Jessica (Ellie Sparrow) is both demanding and unreasonable. Worse than these two, though, is Liam (Tea Poldervaart), who is a hapless little oik who offers little to his relationships apart from boyish good looks. I was left wondering why Roo and Jessica wasted so much time fawning over him.
That being said, there’s something really enjoyable about watching a group of people you don’t really like have it out on stage. The four actors each navigate the play with wit, skill and comic timing in spades, under the direction of Dom Riley. It’s well-crafted – I particularly enjoyed the montage sequences – and unusual. At a running time of around 90 minutes straight through, though, the play does feel too long; more than once the plot felt as though it was repeating itself, while the different story arcs took far too long in reaching their interesting but nonetheless predictable resolutions. Mouldy Grapes is anything but stale, but it could certainly use a bit of careful streamlining.
The small stage of The White Bear in Kennington is an ideal space for this claustrophobic play – the audience is so close that it’s practically sharing the flat with the characters – and the action fits smoothly into its limited dimensions (in fact, I do wonder whether some of the show’s immediacy would be lost in a bigger venue). Ultimately, Mouldy Grapes features impressively high production values and strong performances for a company’s debut production. As with any debut, it’s not perfect, but on the evidence of this show this won’t be the last we hear from Break The ‘Verse – indeed, I’m interested to see what comes next.
Authors: Monty Jones & Ellie Sparrow
Director: Dom Riley
Box office: 033 3012 4963
Booking Link: https://lineupnow.com/event/
Booking Until: 30 September 2017