Mugs’ Arrows

Thursday 19 March 2015
reading time: min, words
Darkly comedic times are afoot down at Nottingham Playhouse thanks to Third Man Theatre
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Upon entering the auditorium, we’re immediately familiar with the scene. Nostalgic ballads, cigarette-stained walls, a darts board and a bar: surely Third Man Theatre’s production would be better placed in a pub theatre. But in fact, the beams painted on a backdrop and the cartoon-brown of the bar furniture aptly remind us that this is not real. And with the crucial central wall-painting of goats, Ken McClymont’s design niftily foreshadows the themes of this surreal piece.  The journey we’re about to embark upon is no ordinary trip to the local.

The volume is cranked up and two silhouettes appear in a doorway filled with blinding light and smoke, perfectly setting the dark comedic tone we’re promised by Mugs’ Arrows. However, as Pat and Ed enter, it all falls a little flat. The pair play darts and engage in ordinary conversation, the occasion is ambiguous, the tone is sober. But the balance between mundane dialogue and intriguing subtext isn’t quite struck.

Then Sarah simultaneously creeps and bounds in wearing her wedding dress and the brilliance of this dark and dangerous piece kicks into gear. We’re immediately captivated by her reluctance to leave the two men in the bar downstairs to spend time with her new husband, the elusive Simon. We witness her stark invasion of Pat and Ed’s physical space through some well thought out staging which vividly visualises that she’s rocked the foundations of the men’s relationship with each other and the never-seen Simon. There’s a stand-out scene where Sarah innocently but antagonistically suggests introducing a hip tapas night to the strictly traditional nuts-only pub. She gets Ed on board whilst Pat goes for the longest piss in the world. Is she working Ed in real-time or are we seeing her infiltration of his psyche? This obscurity is the wonder of the play.  Pat returns and is furious at the change, leading to a hilariously heated argument about chorizo. The dynamic between the three characters is electrifying and the production serves as an intense and insightful exploration of human, particularly male, friendship.

Polly Hughes flawlessly unravels her character, gradually transforming the inoffensive Sarah into a manipulative force that almost strays from human nature. Eddie Elk’s delivery as Ed, who turns out not to be the shy guy he seems, is ingeniously dry, whilst Patrick Molyneux seamlessly transforms from blasé to hot-headed Patrick.

With a few stumbles, the comedy isn’t consistently as on point as the script deserves. But as the piece reaches its truly bizarre, chaotic and captivating finale, it’s fringe theatre at its best and most original. Everything falls into place and yet descends into chaos. Blue paint, intense karaoke and an unexpected climax suggest how deepest human desires can lead people to unhinge each other and tear them from the normality of, say, a night at the pub.

By the end, an audience member had asked an usher, “So, are you going to explain it to me?” It rather seems that isn’t the point. The primal instincts and intricate nature of human beings are as surreal and interesting as Mugs’ Arrows.

Mugs' Arrows is at The Playhouse from Wednesday 18 March to Saturday 21 March 2015

Nottingham Playhouse website

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