Barflies (4 stars)

This article is from 2009


Smart, accomplished tale of schism’n’booze

Ben Harrison’s production, adapted from a series of Charles Bukowski short stories, is very much what you might expect in terms of subject matter, but its treatment at the hands of Grid Iron, brings a certain whimsical élan to the squalor. That the writer’s style, however fanciful it gets, isn’t quite a match for magic realism seems not to matter by the end of the piece.

Keith Fleming’s drunken writer sits at the end of Edinburgh’s Barony bar, hammering away at a typewriter, and conjuring up five women he’s encountered in his booze-sodden life. These all appear in the shape of Gail Watson, who shifts from a punk eccentric descending into a prostitute through to an officious career woman and publisher. On the way, there’s a predictable series of brawls, acts of spousal violence and sometimes tawdry sexual encounters.

As the performers gambol around the pub’s dim wooden interior, there emerges a peculiar moral ambivalence about proceedings. Alcohol emerges as both saviour and destroyer, yet the subtext hints that we too seldom acknowledge it in the former role, and the central character’s plea to be left in his state of undemonstrative degeneracy seems only reasonable. Throughout there are sprinkled several comically insalubrious set pieces, with the highlight being the account of the protagonist’s first wife, a witch, who turns him by slow degrees into a dildo, which is far better seen than described. David Paul Jones, who occasionally emerges from behind his piano to take on the role of barman, adds a fascinating variety of music, from pub ditties to a surprisingly moving rendition of ‘Lilac Wine’, and the two lead performers are both splendid. There are a few problems with sightlines, with some of the action taking place on the floor being entirely obscured if you’re in the wrong seat, but this is a smart and accomplished piece of entertainment.

The Barony, 228 1404, until 31 Aug (not 21 & 22, 28 & 29), 3pm, £14–£16 (£10–£11).


  • 4 stars

Adapted fromstoriesby Charles Bukowski. Join multi award-winning Grid Iron for a visceral look at the pains and glories of drunkenness with the world's most dedicated barfly.Enjoy Grid Iron responsibly. 'The magicians of site-specific theatre' (Observer).