Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Frothy brew with little substance

The Duke of Hope, Tinderbox theatre company Queen's Drama Centre

This is the first full-length play from comedy duo Alan McKee and Conor Grimes - and the first the pair have written for a cast that doesn't include themselves.

Billed as a black comedy, The Duke of Hope takes drink as its subject matter. Mel is a young man who should be going places, but who never makes it past the bar at his local. The cups and trophies he collected as a boy are gathering dust in his parents' home in Portrush, while he watches his life drift by through the bottom of a glass.

Chris Corrigan is the disillusioned Mel, accompanied everywhere by a chip on each shoulder - one's called Shoulda-Woulda-Coulda Mel (Tony Flynn, in great form), the other Drunk Mel (Tony Devlin, solid as a pint of stout). Like Private Gar or Jimminy Cricket, they provide a running commentary on how they'd like Mel to run his life, cutting off his choices and thrusting another glass in his hand.

It sounds straightforward enough, but the dislocated scenes, a collection of flashbacks, fantasy sequences and a sprinkling of song and dance numbers - leave the audience wondering what exactly is going on.

On one level, it's a series of crude jokes about hand jobs and early morning showers which elicits plenty of laughs from the lads, and rather fewer from the rest of us.

On another, it's a series of sketches - some funny, some less so - which allows the cast to sing a little, dance a little, and do a couple of impressions.

Director Michael Duke keeps the show moving crisply and cleanly, but some of the characterisation is thin, and there's a chasm between the comedy of Mel's imagination and the tragedy of his reality that is never really bridged.

Underneath the Viz humour there's a more serious story of how someone tries to substitute real life with something akin to a Carlsberg advert - except that Carlsberg doesn't do real life. I left feeling that a promising play had been shaken up like a bottle of beer, and left us with a lot of froth and very little substance.

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