Bread & Roses Theatre – until 13 January. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Maud Dromgoole’s slippery two-hander plays out like a high-stake poker game. With the audience and cast sitting around bar tables to evoke the feeling of any traditional British pub, one audience member’s face fell – with frantic whispers about impending audience participation, but our role was simply to watch and try to figure out exactly what was going on.
The ambiguity is immediate, Matthew is sitting waiting for Suzie, and their first awkward conversation teases with ideas of a blind date or prostitution, before finally revealing her true purpose. Matthew has hired Suzie to teach him poker so that he can impress his crush, Katie, at her poker night.
If, like me, you know nothing about poker, don’t worry – Suzie’s machinegun delivery of the rules of the myriad variations of the game is probably mindblowing to old hands as well. The characters’ lives become a challenging game as they slowly reveal their cards to each other over time. The passage of time is marked by blackouts and increasingly redacted news reports about the fall of the UK. Dromgoole cleverly drips in information about troop deployment, terrorists and wolves to obfuscate the actual events taking place outside the pub. But as society crumbles, Matthew and Suzie still meet up for their poker lessons. The howls and growls that slowly build up around the room are nerve-jangling, but the tension is always released by sharp one-liners.
The characters are nicely drawn, revealing information and their true feelings slowly and charmingly. Owen Frost gives Matthew’s outwardly confident man-child a lovely sense of vulnerability (think a less obnoxious Howard from The Big Bang Theory) and, as Suzie, Victoria Porter is spiky and brash. The two have great chemistry, and fine comedic timing. The way they soften and open up to each other is written with very little sentimentality that makes their growing relationship even more beautiful. The chasm separating their politics and ethics narrows as everyday issues are forgotten in the effort to survive, and Matthew’s part in enabling the lupine apocalypse is soon dropped by Suzie.
If you’re in the mood for a charming and funny love story crammed full of politics, moral questions, poker tips, and menacing wolves, then Blue Moon is the play to see.