Written and performed by Alasdair Lindsay, Tom Rowntree, Alexander Wiseman, and Jack Oldcorn, ‘Drown Your Sorrows’ is a chaotic depiction of the tragically absurd comedy which lurks among the back rooms of the pub trade.
The main plot sees four bartenders tussle around the recipe for the elixir of life, originally a marketing strategy devised by their ironically deceased employer. The acquisition of this elixir is what keeps the bar’s future as an independent, community business, out of the clutches of ‘Scrooge’, a hilarious caricature of a filthy rich chain pub owner, in which many will recognise a familiar reality.
The postmodern humour typical of the younger generation is present throughout the performance, as demonstrated by the cowboy bartender who seems to have forgotten he works in a themed bar. Neither he nor the audience knows if he is a real cowboy, but it doesn’t matter. The performance pokes fun at itself to such an extent that it’s hard to know where the play starts and the pure enjoyment of the cast ends.
This sense of humour, combined with the central story, strikes a nerve which goes past simple slapstick comedy, as conversations surrounding selling up are a sore spot for the pub trade. Especially in Norwich, a city with a rich history of community in pubs and bars which are slowly being overturned by ‘Scrooge’ like fat cats. This is something that I, nor the audience probably, was expecting to be reminded of while watching the play. It’s a stark reminder about the nature of pub culture which gives the audience a pang of reality behind every riff on selling up to big business. Yet it is this that keeps the comedy alive.
The influence of Norwich and East Anglia is undoubtedly present in the mad adventures around themed bars, capturing the feeling of working and drinking in the bars of Norwich as a student – likely due to the fact that Balderdash contains UEA graduates. I am glad that it previewed somewhere it felt like it was written for.
There is plenty to learn as you watch the absurdity unfold. Money, friendship, and community are all probed under the guise of slapstick. But the play encourages you to do this thinking after the laughs, keeping seamlessly to its tone of absurdity.
At times, there was a feeling that the play was still a work in progress, but all good previews should demonstrate there are still things to do. The overall performance was spot on in its absurd depictions of life as a dead-end bartender. Absolute zingers hit the audience left, right, and centre, leaving a lot of faith in the show’s official opening at the Edinburgh fringe.