Review – Barflies

Feb 9 2012 | By More

★★★★☆   genuinely engaging

Traverse @ The Barony Bar: 6 – 9 Feb 2012
Review By Thom Dibdin

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 and Charlene Boyd in Barflies. Pic: Richard Campbell

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.

controlled anger

New performer Charlene Boyd is magnificent as she sets out Henry’s first love, Cas – from the title story of the The 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.

Keith Fleming as Henry and Charlene Boyd as Vicki in Barflies. Pic: Richard Campbell

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.

another triumph from Grid Iron

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.

Do it.

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes.
Run ends Thursday 9 Feb 2012, returns 27 Feb – 1 Mar.
Shows: 7.30pm
Further details on the Traverse website:

Grid Irons webside:

Charlene Boyd in Barflies. Pic: Richard Campbell

Barflies on tour:

6-9: Feb 7.30pm
The Barony Bar, Broughton Street, Edinburgh  EH1 3RJ

Tickets: Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, Edinburgh  EH1 2ED
0131 228 1404 £15 / £11 / £6

12-13 Feb: 8.30pm
Hootanannys, Church Street, Inverness  IV1 1ES

Tickets: Eden Court Theatre, Bishops Road, Inverness  IV3 5SA
01463 234 234 £12 / £10

16-18 Feb  9pm
Dundee Rep Theatre Bar, Tay Square, Dundee DD1 1PB

Tickets:  Dundee Rep Theatre
01382 223 530 £10

21 Feb 8pm
Betty Nicols, 297 High Street, Kirkcaldy  KY1 1JL

Tickets:  Adam Smith Theatre, Bennochy Road, Kirkcaldy  KY1 1ET
01592 583 302  and Betty Nicols  01592 642 083 £10

24-25 Feb: 7.45pm
Cumbernauld Theatre Bar, Kildrum Cumbernauld  G67 2BN

Tickets:  Cumbernauld Theatre
01236 732 887 £10 / £8

27 Feb – 1 Mar 7.30pm
The Barony Bar, Broughton Street, Edinburgh  EH1 3RJ

Tickets:  Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, Edinburgh  EH1 2ED
0131 228 1404 £15 / £11 / £6

6 Mar 8pm
The Haunt Bar, Paisley Arts Centre, New Street, Paisley  PA1 1EZ

Tickets:  Paisley Arts Centre
0141 887 1010 £10 / £8

8-9 Mar 7.45pm
Redrooms, Perth Theatre, 185 High Street, Perth  PH1 5UW

Tickets:  Perth Theatre
01738 621 031 £12

14-17 Mar 9pm
Victorian Bar, Tron Theatre, 63 Trongate, Glasgow  G1 5HB

Tickets:  Tron Theatre
0141 552 4267 £15 / £11

20-24 Mar 6pm (Wed & Fri), 8pm (Tue,Thurs,Sat)
The Vulcan Hotel, Adam Street, Cardiff

Tickets: Sherman Cymru, Cathays, Cardiff
029 2064 6900 £15


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.