frisson (in a bar) – Leith Arches

Written by CMF Wood

Directed by Ross Hope

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Love’s a bitch, isn’t it?

Especially for those who sought connection during the onset of the Pandemic, where isolation crept into more homes than ever. It was a time of tremendous frustrations and loneliness – for those unable to see family, and loved ones and conduct their everyday interactions. Touchingly though, Production Line’s frisson (in a bar) may initially concern itself with matters of romance, but gradually extends to additional forms of attachment: platonic, familial friendships, and vitally, self-love.

The catalyst for it all sits with a pair on a date. They’ve been speaking for months online, even building a tight rapport and close support of one another. But as Harley arrives to meet with Jonathan, it seems she isn’t quite what he had expected. All the while unlucky-in-love barkeep Kai (Rhona O’Donnell) serves and natters away with Tarquin, a gentleman hellishly losing his business, his partners, and perhaps himself as the tremors point to Parkinson’s Disease. Meanwhile, glum in the corner, Mimi nurses a whiskey – chased with red wine.

For the past few years, Production Lines has championed the continuation of producing originally-crafted pieces for the digital and in-person expression of theatre. Now, frisson tethers together the two – with a two-part show on dating, identity, and finding oneself.

Catching the initial production, a digital Zoom-style medley of therapist calls, dates and catch-ups isn’t strictly necessary for the show – writer Claire Wood ensures enough well-threaded exposition in the early stages without spoiling or over-packing the initial minutes. Audiences grow to know these characters, their ticks and grievances with a ready pace – thanks to the physical setting of the one place where everyone knows your name and everyone shares your problems: The pub.

The watering hole in question is the fabulous Leith Arches, a regular host of events and live performances – including the hugely successful 1902There isn’t a significant amount for designer Jennie Landels to change, but the costumes fit the characters – from Patterson’s fully buttoned shirt to Mathison’s vibrant crimsons. Director Ross Hope has made effective use of the space, even side-stepping some of the venue’s permanent features, and hosts a simple and clean set-up of three areas of action: two tables and the bar. There’s a dip in the show’s pacing, failing to capitalise on the set – pushing the movement into a two-dimensional space, rather than utilising the entire bar. 

It’s a simple set-up, Rhona O’Donnell carrying Hope’s direction for the show, the compassionate bartender who takes an active interest in the lives of her guests –out of intrigue, care, and a more subtle concern of filling out the own missing parts of her life. Unable to rouse the inebriated (emotionally and physically), Mimi, O’Donnell shares a tremendous rapport with Wylie’s exceptionally sharp Tarquin, who had been given a hefty slice of cmfwood’s more comedic parts of the script.

Conveying a persistent sense of dread for an extended period of production is challenging, particularly where the character has little narrative role in the first act outside of their exuding doldrums. But Esther Gilivray does precisely this, never stealing attention, never robbing a scene, sitting quite apathetic and almost unnoticed in their troubles. Excruciatingly impressive so it is, to not lose face when near Wylie’s laceratingly funny delivery. And trust us, we checked. Not a flicker of happiness or a twitch of humour from Gilivray, who remains stoically committed to their character’s episode of suffering and grief.

There’s a wealth of warmth and likeability within the script, but though well performed, frisson (in a bar) continues a touching, but commonplace examination of the isolation the Pandemic highlighted – though traversing into domestic abuse and repressed sexuality is a triumph. Alan Patterson’s usually stoic and authoritative voice is carried with a modicum more fragility here – the role of a withdrawn and anxious gay man, unable to commit to their identity due to his militaristic backdrop. One of the more noticeable roles from the initial frisson (online), Patterson carries Jonathan’s characterisation from voice and physicality, and now in-person.

But it’s Caroline Mathison’s Harley, who alongside Gilivray, is the thriving performance of the evening. Touching, sincere, and with a wonderfully evolving performance which moves with the narrative, even in the woes of loneliness, Mathison imbues the television weather host Harley with a crystal-clear drive to carry on and throw themselves into the world – having seen what the Pandemic had done to so many. But their authentic sense of acceptance when faced with their nightmare is touching, as Jonathan’s miracle Frenchman Marcel (carried with glee by Gregor Haddow) rears their wonderfully enthusiastic nature.

There’s a touch of stop and start to the way in which characters conduct their conversations, a halting of momentum surrounding them – for obvious reasons, but it does strip back the bar aesthetic and make Noble’s pacing drip more into the lengthy whenever there’s a transition of conversation or even the entrance or exit of a cast member.

A snapshot of life, frisson (in a bar) works both as an accompanying piece and a stand-alone product. There’s an argument to be made for its compaction into a lengthier one-act comedic drama. The tight humour draws a plethora of different characters together, serving as a skeleton to share anecdotes and broach the ideas of identity and the value of local pubs outside of their indulgent beverages as local houses of community and ways to fight isolation.

A Snapshot of Life

frisson (in a bar) runs at The Leith Arches until March 9th. Tuesday – Thursday at 20.00pm. Run ended.

Running Time – One hour and thirty minutes, including a twenty-minute interval.

Additional information about Production Lines, and their upcoming shows, may be obtained here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s