The Nag's Head

If you are partial to rather extraordinary pieces of theatre, that contain elements of many genres but cannot be pigeon-holed into any of them, then The Nag’s Head at the Park Theatre might be for you. Officially it’s described as ‘A dark comedy ghost story in an ode to rural England and the independent pub’. It’s also in keeping with the Halloween advent season for those who like a little spookiness.

This mind-boggling play is, above all, entertaining

There’s a feeling that with some audience participation and a few songs, it could develop a cult following, rather like the Rocky Horror Show, except it makes less sense than that. It already has the dance routine, which would be easy to learn, and music by the band Good Habits. It’s short on eccentric costumes, with the exception of the Greene King (as in the brewery) emerald hooded cape. Lines of entrepreneurial capitalists would look impressive outside the theatre waiting to assume their seats in the auditorium. There would also be the opportunity to come as the ghost, the image from the painting having been heavily branded and trademarked. But the show hasn’t reached that level yet.

Let’s start with the easy stuff. Three siblings are in the pub that was owned by their deceased father, whose wake they are attending. Jack, Connor and Sarah, played respectively by co-writers Felix Grainger & Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson and Cara Steele. Jack has been loyal to his late father, helped him run the pub and never left the isolated village of Shireshire. Connor and his sister Sarah both got out as soon they could to start careers and be independent. They have barely kept in touch over the intervening years; well more than a decade, maybe nearer twenty years. As joint beneficiaries of their father’s estate, they are now brought together and must decide on the future of the abysmally failing pub that is devoid of customers. They decide to make a go of it, which, with the benefit of hindsight, turns out to be a foolish move.

From this point the events rapidly charge up the craziness scale from zero (normal) to around five (eccentric to a little mad) by the end of act one and hit ten (absolutely bonkers) well before the curtain comes down. The mystery develops when a gift-wrapped painting is heard to drop at the door. The demonic image is said to have ghostly properties and their father’s insanity is believed to have been caused by it’s haunting antics around the building.

True or not, madness is contagious. Connors inner demons increasingly take over any sanity he might have possessed. Sarah’s delusions of grandeur are reinforced when the brewery’s representative crowns her queen of the pub, (or did she just imagine that?) and Jack is beset by the ghost of a former customer and brandishes a crucifix at the painting fully convinced of its satanic powers. There’s more; a lot more as the trio increasingly lose control of the situation and they succumb to other-worldly forces.

The members of the ensemble formed by Make It Beautiful Theatre Company give their all to this production as they take on multiple roles, creating a presence and clarity of purpose for each character. Director Alice Chambers skilfully moves them around the two sets of pub tables and chairs laid out in front of the bar that gives an unmistakable location for the action. She has clearly exercised control and staged the movement with precision to avoid what could have turned into shambolic cavortings given the high octane levels of energetic performance. Commenting on The Nag’s Head, Grainger says, “This play has been the product of two years of passionate research and writing. Working with communities in both Shropshire (where I’m from) and Norfolk we’ve deep-dived into folklore and ghost stories as well as what makes a good old pub run and the characters you meet in them”. Which brings us to the universal concern about the survival of pubs, especially independent ones, in the face of increasing rates of closure and corporate takeovers. as the serious issue that underpins the story.

Almost lost for words regarding the production, not really knowing what to make of it, my friend and I agreed afterwards that this mind-boggling play is, above all, entertaining. It’s a simple description of but it fits the bill.

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The Blurb

Welcome to The Nag's Head: The spookiest pub in Shireshire.  

Do you believe in ghost stories? Do you want to hear tales that will chill you to the bone... that will make you wish you brought a spare set of pants?

After the death of their father, three estranged siblings return home for the funeral. Burdened with their dad's failing pub and a weird painting, they must decide whether to work together to save The Nag's Head or succumb to their inner demons. 

With support from the Arts Council England, Shropshire Museum and the Norwich Theatre, Make It Beautiful Theatre Company presents their new dark comedy play: The Nag's Head. Featuring original music from folk band Good Habits, and real paranormal accounts, this debut production is an ode to rural England and the independent pub.

By Felix Grainger & Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson

Directed by Alice Chambers

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