frisson (in a bar)

Mar 10 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆     Warm and caring

Leith Arches: Wed 8 – Thu 9 Mar
Review by Allan Wilson

Production Lines’ frisson (in a bar) continues to look at the lives of three of the four people that were first seen via Zoom in last week’s frisson (online) and introduces three new characters.

With the action moving to a real bar, created in Leith Arches, this is a warm and caring exploration of the friendship and support that can be found in unexpected places when times are hard.

Rhona O’Donnell as Kai in frisson (in a bar). Pic: Production Lines.

Writer, cmfwood, skilfully handles the transition between the online episode that most, but not necessarily all, of the audience will have watched and the new, in-person play; passing on vital elements of the earlier story but without getting bogged down with a detailed reprise.

Kai, previously seen in an online counselling session with her therapist has moved on. Rhona O’Donnell now portrays her as a compassionate and caring bartender, with a deep interest in the lives of her customers who she considers as friends. As the play begins, Kai is trying unsuccessfully to engage with Mimi (Esther Gilivray), an older woman drinking by herself, who is clearly upset but not yet able to talk about her troubles.

They are soon joined by Alan Paterson’s Jonathan, previously met as a nervous, closeted gay man on his first online date, and newcomer Tarquin, a mature, flamboyant gay man, skilfully brought to life by Robert Wylie. Jonathan is clearly looking for somebody he has arranged to meet. Is it Marcel, his date from frisson (online), or could it be Tarquin?


Tarquin has his own problems, having been brutally removed from his professional position as his increasing hand tremor, resulting from Parkinson’s Disease, is seen as a sign of a dependence on alcohol. He immediately recognises Jonathan as a fellow gay man.

However, when Jonathan’s date arrives it turns out to be the third newcomer: Harley, played with nuance by Caroline Mathison. She is a popular television weather presenter, recognised and loved by everybody in the bar – except Jonathan, who has never seen her. They have been communicating regularly by email and text and developed a friendship but, confused by her online profile picture of a dog, Jonathan was expecting to meet a man.

Caroline Mathison as Harley in frisson (in a bar). Pic: Production Lines.

Harley feels that people expect her to be sunny and happy every day and that she has no right to be grumpy. She hopes that Jonathan will turn out to be bisexual, even though he never admits to being gay. This leads to awkward conversation, often punctuated with long silences, as they talk about how personal information is shared online.

The awkwardness between them is handled very well, with the actors sometimes looking around as if searching for a new, safe topic of conversation, suggesting that Harley clearly has feelings for Jonathan while he certainly likes her.

After the interval, Mimi comes out of her shell to reveal the reason for her sadness, talks about past traumas and her current problems. Marcel, Jonathan’s original online date, arrives at the bar after travelling from Paris in hope of finding him. Gregor Haddow brings the same exuberance to Marcel he brought to their original online date, with an additional hint of uncertainty as reflecting Marcel’s investment in an uncertain outcome.


Ross Hope’s direction cleverly switches between the various stories, with Tarquin standing at the bar, Jonathan and Harley sitting at one table, Mimi alone at another, and Kai mainly at the bar, but moving between the tables, acting as the glue to hold the production together. The tables are sufficiently distanced to allow moments of private conversation, but close enough to allow people to be overheard, questioned and supported across the room.

frisson (in a bar) is an enjoyable production, bringing together some very different characters and allowing them to share their personal stories, with moments of humour and sadness, as you might find any evening in many bars across the country.

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes (including interval)
Leith Arches, 6 Manderston Street, EH6 8LY
Wednesday 8/Thursday 9 March 2023
Evenings: 8pm.
Run ended.

Mimi (Esther Gilvray) and Tarquin (Robert Wylie) in a publicity shot for frisson (in a bar). Pic: Production Lines.


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