The Green Man

Doug Lucie
Bush Theatre
(2003)

The Green Man may start off as a comedy about angling but it is soon apparent that it is really an allegory on the state of the nation. Perhaps the giveaway is that it is set in a public house, perfectly designed by Matthew Wright down to the fag butt ground into the carpet and the Jumping Gems fruit machine.

There is a long tradition of examining life through the bottom of a beer glass. Whether it is Cheers or EastEnders, The Weir or Absolute Hell, writers have used this medium as an easy way of providing their audiences with provocative chatter.

If summarised, the action of the play could also come straight from a soap opera. There are, inter alia, three counts of adultery, one attempted suicide, one unwanted pregnancy, a suspected case of alcohol poisoning that could prove fata,l and a couple who decide to emigrate to Spain. In the wrong hands, this might become very cliched but under the direction of the very sure Simon Stokes, it proves to be a rich combination of comedy and perceptive comment on "Noughties Britain".

The initial discussion between the tired barman, Bernie (played by John Ramm, better known as one half of the National Theatre of Brent) and the unambitious Professor of Carp Fishing, Lou (a lovely performance from Phil Daniels), centres on their weekend away fishing. For those who are not anglers, this may seem like a dull subject but somehow Doug Lucie has managed to inject incredible humour into this exchange. It helps that Lucie uses angling as a metaphor for life.

This pair is quickly joined by young Greg, a proto-stud in a chunky gold bracelet who has a whining accent that is perfectly produced by Burn Gorman. He is the protegé of wide-boy property developer made good, Mitch. Danny Webb does a very good job of showing the way in which this right wing control-freak masters his friends with his bullying. He also becomes increasingly and very convincingly drunk as the play moves through the wee small hours of one night that the company spend Waiting for Barry, possibly a new version of Godot.

The main area of confrontation is between Mitch, who must always win and have the last word whether it is in business, angling or with someone else's wife, and Lou. The latter is a twice-married failure who has no ambition at all. He does, though, have a surprising inner strength which means that even though he is Mitch's employee he can stand up to him, not to mention drink him under the table.

It is their battle that forms the centrepiece of the play. Mitch, dressed like General Norman Schwartzkopf, represents the worst elements of the enterprise society, while his friend, who looks more like Bill Oddie bird-watching, shows something of the impotence of the 50 year-old erstwhile revolutionary. The ethical agenda becomes more interesting as we see that young Greg is willing to stand up to Mitch and take the moral high ground. This is surely a sign of hope for the future.

The laughs come thick and fast but the biting social satire that underlies this play is the main reason why it will live long in the memory.

Philip Fisher