In our day to day anodyne world of commuting and spam e-mails it's easy to forget that sometimes we all need to swill a beer, dismiss our troubles and dance to our sweaty content. In his new one man show The Bread and the Beer, Tristram Bernays attempts to remind us of this by resurrecting long forgotten deity John Barleycorn - an actual folklore figure with similarly capricious upbeat views and follies to Roman equivalent Bacchus.
Bernays, who wrote and performs the show, has created a thrilling contemporary myth theorising what a god from the days of old would think of our modern, trudging world. His writing is vivid, punchy and full of memorable images. From the offset he draws us into a fantastical world of magic but keeps a strong reference point in the real through the structured development of the scenes and depth of the characters. Even supporting players in the Barleycorn fable are given more than enough zest and personality not only to justify their existence but to populate the narrative with multiple character arcs, none of which outweigh the central character's boozy journey through 21st century London.
The design, staging and use of projections are well thought out and visually arresting without being distracting and they all serve the narrative and setting. However, even if the show featured pyrotechnics, a full brass band and Fleetwood Mac's Lindsay Buckingham wailing You Can Go Your Own Way in the aisle every ten minutes, they would not serve as distractions due to Bernays' incredible performance. It is not just that it is full of boundless, boyish energy and that his characterisation, both physically and vocally, is varied without straying into unintentional comedy, it is his unwavering commitment to the show. He becomes fully engrossed in the yarn and there's an odd jolt at the end Bernays renters to give a bow out of character.
The Bread and the Beer is a thrilling 45 minutes and, due to the verve with which Bernays worships the beer, you will certainly leave desperate for a foaming glass.