Sobriety on the Rocks
Bread and Roses Theatre
Reviewed – 21st July 2022
“an intoxicating performance, soused in brutal honesty”
Renee Buckland bursts into the room with the energy of a prize fighter; alone, vulnerable but with a feisty determination. The opponent is a bottle of hard liquor. A rope skirts the stage. The metaphor is complete as she adjusts the rope from time to time, suggesting who might have the upper hand. This is a character who is truly wrestling with drink.
Or rather – characters. Buckland turns the concept of a one woman show into a sharply honed ensemble piece. With no set or costume change, her ability to switch roles in the blink of an eye practically creates the illusion of a company. Four characters, indelibly linked. Caught in the same armlock. Richard’s life is on the rocks as he is recovering in hospital following a drunken car accident. Forced into drying out, all he has to look forward to are the criminal charges he faces on discharge. His is the pivotal character that poses the question as to whether his alcoholism is a disease or a choice. His wife, Cherie, is back at home picking up the pieces. Does she try to reassemble them? Or has she had enough? It is an impossible choice to make. Their son, Jamie, is teetering on adulthood, staggering under the effects of an alcoholic dad, while trying to walk in a straight line. Kimberley, the paramedic who saves Richard’s life at the crash scene is battling with her own demons, and a past that cruelly divides her sympathies.
All these personalities avoid the stereotype, and Buckland delivers their stories and perspectives without lecturing or any leading questions. It is an intoxicating performance, soused in brutal honesty, enhanced by the knowledge that this play is pretty universal. Whether we like it or not, certain phrases are going to hit home and floor us. Mercifully, though, we are often brought round again with Buckland’s innate sense of humour. Tadeas Moravec’s dynamic direction gives her the freedom to switch moods with a shapeshifter’s ease.
Inspired by real events, and pieced together from conversations with an alcoholic and his family, the play’s verbatim feel does detract ever so slightly from the real emotional punch. We are naggingly aware of the vicarious narrative, so the poignancy sometimes loses its bite. But another shot of Buckland’s spirited performance can make us forget. It is a heady cocktail; overflowing with undiluted flavours (sometimes too many). The paradoxes are explored and researched in depth. One is reminded of the old joke: “How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb?”. “Just one, but the lightbulb has to really want to change.” Those in the profession baulk at the flippancy and refuse to equate ‘failure to change’ with ‘lack of desire’.
Is alcoholism a disease or a choice? Is it selfish to let your five-year-old child find you on the bathroom floor in a pool of your own piss and vomit? Do you try to resuscitate a drunk driver on the roadside knowing that your brother was previously an innocent, fatal victim of such an act? How many chances do you give your washed-out husband, given your marital vows of ‘in sickness and in health’? Is an alcoholic deprived of a drink synonymous with somebody deprived of their parent/child/sibling/friend/partner…? These are just whispers of the full conversation going on onstage. Many more questions are asked.
The show cannot claim, or attempt, to offer any answers. It enlightens us, however. Whatever your assumptions, or personal brushes with the topic, “Sobriety on the Rocks” is, if not definitive, a vital piece of theatre; with the bonus of being richly entertaining. It is difficult to make such serious topics palatable, but Buckland achieves it. Fittingly, the late Elliott Smith’s song, ‘Between the Bars’, plays us out. An elegiac paean to alcoholism, it has a hauntingly addictive refrain. Similarly, “Sobriety on the Rocks” will have you hooked.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Andrew Williams
Sobriety on the Rocks
Bread and Roses Theatre until 23rd July ahead of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 15th – 20th August
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