Jack Gallagher’s play The Best Pints invites one to breathe a sigh of relief over a pint of stout. Not literally; but almost. As the audience settles down in Islington’s cosy black box theatre above the Hope & Anchor on Upper Street, they join old friends Gerry (Warren Rusher), Steve (Matthew Blaney) and David (Tarik Badwan) who are already hunched over a pint of Guinness. Positioned in a U-shape around the three Irishmen, the audience bears witness to the banter as the characters aim to outdo each other with moving recounts and fabricated anecdotes. Provoked by Rusher’s question as to what the best pint that each of them ever had, was; Blaney, Rusher and Badwan begin to share their most meaningful moments involving the cold beverage.
Whilst director Ken Dent could have settled for a series of monologues that dive into themes such as parenthood, the loss of a loved one, and the bond of friendship, he opted for a playful delivery. As each character earns their moment in the spotlight to reveal memorable memories to the audience, the two remaining friends take on the roles of noteworthy individuals that contribute to the story. Seamlessly, Blaney slips into the role of Gerry’s son Dan, portraying an earnest and slightly insecure adolescent on the brink of leaving the family home. While Rasher and Blaney enrapt the audience with their lively retellings of moments of pride and confidence, Badwan’s character loses momentum halfway through the play. Revisiting the moments that followed his wife’s demise, the actor aims at an emotional, teary-eyed portrayal of loss whilst drawing out the narrative with grave, elongated pauses.
The play’s mood – which is described in the synopsis as ‘comedy’ – is saved by Blaney’s character’s knack for fabricating tales and luring his two friends into an imaginary scenario featuring the Japanese Yakuza. To the laughter of the audience, it finds a rewarding end as the three friends breathe a sigh of relief over a pint of stout.
Due to its minimalistic stage design of three chairs and three empty pint glasses, The Best Pints relies heavily on Gallagher’s witty writing and the actors’ ability to draw the audience in with their vivid storytelling and quirky characterisations. Driven by the audience’s laughter, the play resembles a night out at the local pub. And when the golden pint is lifted at the end and the three men have acknowledged their deep friendship, it almost feels as if Badwan’s slightly disconnected portrayal of loss and Kay Dent’s peculiar sound design cannot take away from the heartfelt portrayal of friendship, vulnerability and unity that leaves the audience with a smile on their face as the lights go down.
Running: 22/01/2023 – 23/01/2023 & 29/01/2023 – 30/01/2023
Review: Shirley Both