The Lonely Walk Home
Taurus Bar, Manchester
This short play by a Manchester playwright in a tiny room below a bar where it could quite possibly be set has already won awards in an earlier form before this hour-long stage première and features a lead actor better known for his general knowledge than his acting.
C J de Mooi, one of BBC TV's Eggheads quiz regulars, is well-spoken Lawrence, socially awkward and a loner but not by choice, who comes regularly to this bar to sit on his own, hardly noticed by anyone else, and sip his single malt.
Into the bar and Lawrence's life comes Joe, much younger and more confident than Lawrence, in hoodie and baseball cap and with a strong Manchester accent. Lawrence is surprised that Joe speaks to him at all, even more that he is interested in him, and they talk (mainly Joe talking actually) and then go back to Lawrence's place.
More than that it would be difficult to tell without giving away any of the twists in this intriguing story, other than to say that neither man is quite as he seems and that they have rather more in common than is initially apparent.
Writer Townsend says in a programme note that this piece began as a short story and then became a radio play, which was shortlisted for the Alfred Bradley Bursary Award in 2014 and won a special prize from BBC Writersroom. This may go some way towards explaining the play's style and perhaps some of its deficiencies.
Most of the story is delivered as narration directly to the audience by the two characters, sometimes breaking into dialogue between them, which works well for most of the time, but sometimes, particularly later on, the script gets a bit bogged down in explanations. This means that some of the twists, rather than hitting you over the head with surprise, are swamped in a sea of words and appear only gradually.
De Mooi plays the nervous loner well, but the hesitancy in his delivery is a bit overplayed overall, which kills the pace in some scenes. Jake Benson's Joe is a great contrast, entering like a whirlwind and providing much of the humour—and the horror.
Joe's story about an apparently abusive relationship with "Steve" becomes crucial to the plot, but he also falls into the trap of pausing before every line in some of the serious moments. Some more varied pacing in the second half may go a long way towards preventing the impression of wordiness.
But overall, it's an interesting tale with intriguing plot twists and plenty of humour in a lovely venue—although the tiny performance space is quite restrictive—that I've not previously visited, so it's definitely worth the trip to Canal Street.
Reviewer: David Chadderton