Live jazz bands and theatrical pieces are rarely blended together so successfully. On the musical side Ablutions features two electric guitars, a drum and a quartet of heavenly voices. On the dramatic side, there is a lead actor and two supporting actors who manage to showcase their skills by playing up to four different characters. The set is sparse, the lights are hazy, and the aesthetics perfectly give off a sense of seedy stylishness.

The set is sparse, the lights are hazy, and the aesthetics perfectly give off a sense of seedy stylishness.

The central premise revolves around a bartender whose position we are asked to envisage ourselves in. He has worked in a seedy bar in America, surrounded by deadbeats, suffering from the blues for too long. With a drinking problem and a wife itching for a divorce, this bartender longs for escape, and the show takes us through his many attempts at finding relief, in adventure, travel, sexual and musical escapades. Moral corruption corrodes him throughout, along with his liver.

Eoin Slattery made a relatable bartender, Fiona Mikel was charming as each of his failed love interests, and Harry Humberstone changed from role to role with chameleon slickness. However, the most impressive thing about this cast is how in tune they are both with each other and with the musical interludes.

The comedy is not of raucous, laugh-out-loud variety, but is low-key, quirky and stylish.

The choreography is effortlessly professional, and the production slick. What makes this show click is contrast. The mixture of gritty realism with heavenly, dreamy music was effective. At one point our bartender’s alcohol-abused body collapses and he rolls onto the floor groaning. It feels too real, too painful, and the contrasting loveliness of the music brings a wave of cleansing sympathy over the scene, an ablution, you could say. Rarely has the story of a bartender been told so tenderly.

Reviews by Joanna Alpern

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The Blurb

Following the sell-out success of Belleville Rendez-vous, the award-winning FellSwoop Theatre (in association with Bristol Old Vic Ferment) return with Ablutions, adapted from the novel by Man Booker shortlisted author, Patrick DeWitt. A dark, boozy tale from the sodden depths of the LA underworld, blending a live soundtrack, detailed mime and DeWitt's heart-wrenching humour. ‘Sexy, intriguing, intelligent, confident, FellSwoop's take on DeWitt's tragi-comic novel is a rock'n'roll riff on the poetry of addiction’ ***** (Venue.co.uk). ‘Elegantly structured and consummately performed, this highly accomplished production reminds you why theatre is so bloody brilliant’ (Wildfire Critics' Choice Award, Exeter Ignite).