Friday, 11 January 2019

REVIEW: The Betting Shop - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

'The Betting Shop' is Stevie Helps’ latest offering at the Lowry Theatre and this was the play’s premiere in the Aldridge Studio. Following the success of Helps’ previous play ‘Rachel’ in 2018, 'The Betting Shop' also deals with many social issues. The main story surrounds the central location of a betting shop owned by characters, Fred and Bet. With over 26 other characters in the story and a cast of 20, this promised to be an entertaining evening from No Egos Theatre Company.

The Aldridge Studio space is an intimate setting for any theatre production and I have seen the space used in a variety of ways but in this production, it was the first time I would describe it as cramped. The set was on show from the outset of the audience’s arrival and representative of a series of locations which remained onstage throughout. From the early scenes of the protagonist family home; interior and exterior, to the actual betting shop which remained stage left and not used really until act two. It was overcrowded and rather than being a feast for the eyes, the audience wasn’t always sure where to focus their attentions, because there was just too much and the actors struggled in the confined performance space as a result.

In fact, there was a lot of everything in this play: plot lines, set, props and costumes and it was all just too much, the extent of the design features, really didn’t enhance the production quality one bit. Fred’s wig was a classic example of the typical old man ‘sweep over’ style but the actor spent more time with his face obscured by the unruly follicles and trying to fix it, than on remaining in role. Other set and props mishaps just gave the edge of lacking in rehearsal and it was a shame to witness as it felt more like a dress rehearsal gone wrong, than an opening night.

The actors were aplenty and spanned a wide range of ability also! With decent stage presence and credible performances from Linda Meacher in the role as Bet and Anna Prior playing Iris, there were moments of lovely rapport and a meaningful script. But there was just so much script, so much plot and not enough development to make the rest of the play believable. Huge social issues from gambling to homelessness, drug addiction, neglect, rape and grooming, were all dealt with so swiftly that the script felt cluttered, when it should have been a serious piece of drama. At other times when the comedy should have been in full swing, the audience struggled to see the humour as pace and pauses where out of sync due to the poor delivery of lines.

However, some of the younger cast members showed real promise in their performances; notably Hannah Rose in the role of Penny, Maxillian Logan-Wright as William and Imogen Butler in the roles of Wally and the Wizard. These are all promising performers who I would like to see in a play with more scope for character development. The script and direction of this piece just seemed rushed and not a lot of thought had gone into the quality of the overall production. Even the Lowry website advertised the play as a 75 minute performance and it was 105 minutes in reality, something which felt drawn out yet underdeveloped at the same time.

I love the Lowry Theatre and most of what I watch in there, I would consider to be great entertainment and something which is thought provoking. Unfortunately, I didn’t find that was the case with this production. I felt like the actors were having a better time on the stage than the audience and I wouldn’t rush back to watch another one of No Ego’s Productions.

Reviewer - Johanna Hassouna-Smith
on - 10/1/19

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