Mar 23 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆     Funny

Bedlam: Tue 21 – Sat 25 Mar 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

The EUTC make a decent fist of Shakers, at the Bedlam all week, playing to the broad comedy of the John Godber and Jane Thornton’s script but finding their best in its moments of pathos.

Director Izzy Ponsford has taken the excellent but potentially tricky decision to stage the show, about four waitresses in a cocktail bar, in the bar of the Bedlam. It’s not perfect but it easily passes muster and, for Bedlam veterans, this is as warm as I have ever experienced the venue in many years of reviewing there.

Abby Brooke, Izzy Pleasance, Lucy Melrose and Hollie Avery. Pic: Izzy Ponsford

Shakers is Godber and Thornton’s sister piece to Bouncers. And in a similar vein, it takes the framework of four characters in their working posts, then adds to that their depictions of – and reflections on – the punters around them, as well as diving into the characters’ own backstories.

All four performers here create more than passable basic characters, in a production which is set, as it was originally written for Hull Truck theatre company, in 1985. Here is a northern English town, in a time when a £2 cocktail was an acceptable, if slightly pricy, reality against the background of Thatcher’s Britain.

When it comes to observation of the cocktails waitresses as barkeeps they generate a fine level of detail, from the mixing of cocktails for the audience – some seats come with a bonus cocktail include on the price – and the natural back and forth when people are working behind a bar.

live music

They are helped by the production design itself. The immersive setting stretches to live music, with Zain Cruickshank on bass and Theo Vickers on piano significantly adding to the atmosphere of the bar design from Lilli Steffens which is unobtrusively lit by Freya Game.

Building out of this, each actor brings strongly natural realism, particularly to the monologues that go into their backstory.

Lucy Melrose and Izzy Pleasance. Pic: Izzy Ponsford

Hollie Avery is particularly compelling as Carol, bright but shunned at school, she has been away to college but found herself without the right background for the jobs she aspires to – then on coming home that she is over qualified for the jobs she has to settle for.

Avery does bolshy very well, standing up for their rights when young Nicki (Abby Brooks) comes in wearing shorts, as requested by the bar’s owner. Brooks herself is exceptional in the scene where Nicki is seen auditioning for a theatre role, with a self-written piece about her gran having a heart attack. There is both a nervousness and a warmth to the speech.


Izzy Pleasance is never less than interesting to watch as Mel, happy to be at Shakers after the boredom of working in a dead-beat old man’s pub. While Lucy Melrose as Adele brings a poignancy to her tale of telling her parents she was going on holiday to Scotland, when in reality she was having an abortion.

It’s when the play steps away from these four characters to look at the punters that the comedy gets broader and the differentiation becomes less clear.

Abby Brooke and Hollie Avery. Pic: Izzy Ponsford

They are still fun pieces of observational comedy: lads egging each other on to ask for a “long slow comfortable screw”; media types hiding from their wives, fit boys in their puffa jackets or the old duffers in flat caps at Mel’s previous job. Or girls getting ready to go out, being bitchy out clothes shopping or trying to squeeze into a pair of too small jeans.

It’s all fine enough, with the different characters being worked into the flow of the show well, while different hats help generate a bit of character, but there are not enough dimensions to each type for any one type to stand out and as a consequence they tend to blur into one, rather excitable, whole.

It feels as if the actors were just forcing the comedy that bit too much, broadening it out where they could relax and let the script do more of the heavy lifting.

Despite the usually excellent staging, there are also a few small false steps. Strange to see a smart phone in use in 1985 – and while 50 Shades of Gray is certainly an in-character read for Mel, it was not published until 2011.

That said, this is still a nicely turned piece of comedy, helped along by its semi-immersive setting, which has the essential hints of serious issues to make the laughs the more hard won and satisfying for it.

Running time: One hour and ten minutes (including a ten minute interval)
Bedlam Theatre, 11B Bristo Place, EH1 1EZ.
Tue 21 – Sat 25 March 2023
Evenings: 9.15pm for 9.30pm start.
Strictly over-18s only.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Abby Brooke and Izzy Pleasance. Pic: Izzy Ponsford


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