Time at the Tristan Bates Theatre

Yesterday I was in the audience for the first night of Michael Head’s funny new play ‘Time’. It tells the story of a group of bank robbers, meeting up several months after a job spiralled dangerously out of control. This dark comedy is full of anecdotes of the “good old days” of being in a firm, the need for a code, and the importance of loyalty. Definitions of “good” are flexed and adapted to fit this code, and you wouldn’t want to be caught on the wrong side of their moral line. Based on real people and true events, this show brims with humour, nicknames and a very strong sense of family.

We find our criminals reuniting in a pub owned by Slips (Michael Head). Waldorf (David Schaal) represents the old guard. He knew Slips’ uncle well, and worked with many a famous criminal, and has the anecdotes to prove it. Fisherman (Daniel O’Reilly) is full of his own stories and banter, and clearly has a long standing relationship with Waldorf. The last to arrive is Prozac (Paul Danan) who feels like the outsider of the group, and Fisherman is quick to blame him for the job going sideways, even though technically surely it was his own fault?

This cast of four all give strong performances. The standouts for me are O’Reilly and Schaal, who have a wonderful chemistry as Fisherman and Waldorf. You get a real sense of the well worn stories that hold their friendship together, and the humour shines in their repartee. Slips, despite the connection through his uncle, feels distant, like an observer who doesn’t fully gel as part of the group. Maybe because he has never served time, or maybe because his priority is so clearly his young family. Meanwhile Danan is all jitters as pill-popper Prozac, who exudes nervous energy and understandably attracts the distrust of the other men.

There is, however, a surprising twist to the story that I really enjoyed. Michael Head pulls the rug out from under us in a very satisfying way that opens up the story and the characters within it. Just how screwed up does a situation have to be for men to really open up to each other about their emotions? Love, family, friendship, mental health and defining your own sense of morality are all key themes that elevate this comedy above the norm. There are echoes of Pinter in the more menacing comedic aspects of the play, as things are not quite as they would seem.

Under Joe Withers’ direction the play has a strong comedic identity, although tonally it feels like it is still coming together in places. An inevitable challenge in a play that straddles both the comedic and the heartfelt, and something that a little further polishing should fix. The set provides a clear and recognisable sense of place and mood for the piece, while sound and lighting are used to powerful effect to convey key plot points.

‘Time’ is running at the Tristan Bates until 15th February with limited tickets available for the rest of the run, so I’d move quickly to nab tickets to this funny and surprising show.

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