We really don’t know much about beer. For example: the difference between lager and ale? One is fizzy and one is flat, of course. One is cold and one is warm. One is for those in tracksuits, one is for those in tweed. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
William Glenn and Trish Parry have created a show that debunks myths like these and reveals how our consumption of beer is in fact intertwined with the progression of history. From ancient Iraq to a can in the park, beer has been our friend and foe in ways much more interesting than we realise.
A Brief History of Beer gives us this information through a series of quantum hops akin to those made by the Starship Enterprise, light-heartedly taking us back and forth through time in an attempt to find what the essence of ‘beer’ really is and why it means so much to us. The effects used to do this are well-prepared and often amusing; Glenn and Parry really care about beer and it shows in the way they have assembled this performance.
However, the conceit can become overbearing and distract from the subject matter. Beer is fun, but the repeated use of sound and visual effects seems to get in the way of exploring some interesting ideas. For example: the importance of beer in the industrial revolution, and the relationship that women have with beer. Both ideas are potentially fascinating, but both are tantalisingly glossed over rather than meaningfully engaged with.
Despite not quite getting at their most important material, Glenn and Parry are a charming presence, clearly enjoying each other’s company in performance. There is no acting greatness here (although Glenn’s Canadian accent is wonderfully Terence-and-Phillip-esque), simply two people who really care about something choosing a theatrical medium in which to express why. They’re honest, and likeable because of it.
Beer is important to society, for better or worse. For this reason we should make more of an effort to consider its providence - an essential revelation in this show is that almost all of the big beer brands are owned by an enormous global corporation, ‘InBev’. You’ll soon realise after watching this that the idea of San Miguel being ‘authentically Spanish’ is absurd (if you hadn’t already, that is).
With a lot of interesting information packed into an engaging format, A Brief History of Beer is of interest to anyone who’d like to know what’s in their pint, which should be lots of us. A free show revealing the secrets of our favourite beverage? I’ll drink to that.