REVIEW – Barflies, Grid Iron Theatre


Something’s slightly askew in the Barony this evening. Instead of daily menus, the blackboards are chalked with quotations by Charles Bukowski; instead of the usual fare behind the bar, the drinks on offer tonight include Screw Lager and Man In A Boat beer. Appropriately, it’s like viewing the traditional bar through a drunken, reality-altering haze.

The space is dressed to provide the stage for Grid Iron‘s reprise of their 2009 Fringe hit, Barflies. Directed by Ben Harrison and based on the writings of Bukowski, it staggers a path through the semi-autobiographical tales of Henry (Keith Fleming) and the three loves of his life: women (played by Charlene Boyd), writing and drinking.

The drunken artist archetype is a little passé these days: the life of the tortured barfly more likely to evoke pity than the awe it perhaps used to command. Barflies is aware of this, neither romanticising nor glamourising things; not shying away from the messy chaos of the alcoholic’s life: broken glass, fumbling sexual encounters, unsightly stains and all.

Fleming and Boyd are compelling as Henry and the series of women he collides with. The heightened performances required to portray the drunk at first verge a little close to histrionics: but things soon find their own pace and flow, ending up believable. David Paul Jones (last seen as the murderous conservatoire headmaster of What Remains) plays barman Silent Dave, and also provides musical accompaniment, mixing hymns to drink from the likes of Cave and Burns into the piece.

Grid Iron choose to transport Henry and his muses from LA to Scotland, with some regional vernacular and a few local references in the script. As the alleyways of Scotland are just as soaked as the LA backstreets, this gives the piece a subtle taste of social commentary amongst the slaps and spills of the drunken drama which plays out in front of, behind and on top of the bar.

Barflies comes with no salvation and no solution. By the time Henry and his latest companion stumble from the Barony in another hopeless cycle of self-destruction, Grid Iron’s deliriously raw and excellently-staged production hasn’t left us with any great message or lesson: but neither – thankfully – has it preached.

Barflies runs at The Barony in Broughton Street until 9 Feb, then again from 27 Feb – 1 March. Details are on the Traverse website.

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