THEY’RE back, they’re performing very nearby, and they’re just as good as they were last time, possibly even better! Living Spit theatre company have been given a tiny budget by Theatre Orchard and Artsreach to take free live theatre to villages in Somerset and Dorset, and following their hugely successful Six Wives of Henry VIII they are bringing another clever, easily accessible and highly humourous story, loosely (very loosely) based on King Lear, to local pubs!
I was lucky enough to be packed into a very warm White Horse at Stourpaine this evening, where ninety minutes of action packed narrative, all in rhyme, with songs from gospel to bluegrass, with rock and blues along the way, told the poignant tale of Trevor and Judy.
Trevor is a farmer who has been told he only has a short time to live, and decides to leave his farm to one of this three children. To help him decide which child will get the farm, he tests them, with the help of his best friend Judy. This is the magical world of theatre, so for me it was no surprise to see a similar pattern to the Henry VIII show, with Howard Coggins playing the title role of Trevor, and Stu McLoughlin playing all the other parts, Trevor’s two sons, daughter, and of course, Judy.
In case you hadn’t worked it out yet, Judy is the cow of the title, and Stu proves his versatility time and again, switching effortlessly from human to bovine, and out of character to play bass or squeezebox when needed, just as Howard proves his musical skills on guitar, ukulele and mouth organ. There are also some excellent harmonies and a capella singing, and a wonderfully wordy opening and closing song which puts the play into perspective in the local pub (with good grub).
The time flew by, and even standing at the far end of a packed pub, I could see every facial expression and hear every word, which is just as well, as this is a superb script, tightly directed, in rhyming couplets, with some very clever set-ups to almost cause swearing, and some lovely rhymes which come in the middle of a longer sentence, all delivered with a consummate professionalism.
Coggins and McLoughlin may pretend they are just two Bristol actors, but in their time they have acted with some of the world’s best – at the National Theatre, in the West End, and with innovative companies such as Kneehigh. They take that experience and distill it, ending up with a concentrated script which cannot fail to entertain. This is a chance to see world-class actors at the top of their game performing in a village pub within inches of the audience. It continues for a few more weeks, and the boys will be back in the region in the Autumn with their next show Elizabeth I – Virgin on the Ridiculous, which I for one cannot wait to see.