The Pool - City of Culture?

James Brough and Helen Elizabeth
Arts Theatre
(2007)

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The Pool won a Fringe First in Edinburgh last year. It now has a relatively brief chance to impress Londoners and may do so but only up to a point, as its strengths and weaknesses are each very apparent.

The two-hander, acted by the writers, takes place in the space of "a day in the life" (one Beatles' song that doesn't make it into the poppy soundtrack) which starts with the arrival of a tripper to "The Pool"

David (James Brough) is a cockney boy who follows a one-night stand onto a train and ends up in Liverpool, penniless after his wallet is stolen. He tries to endear himself by talking to the audience but does so in bad couplets that struggle to rhyme and scan and at their worst have the quality of trite greetings card messages.

When his fortunes are at their lowest, he is the kind of guy who heads straight for the bookies. With the aid of lonely Tina (Helen Elizabeth), a tough cashier with the proverbial heart of gold, he turns a couple of quid into a couple of hundred in a morning and then takes her out for the afternoon.

Once they get together, the verse disappears and the audience is able to enjoy a verbal tour of Liverpool, enthusiastically led by Tina. She is a girl who loves her city's culture, taking the somewhat bewildered Londoner to the cathedral and Anthony Gormley's Field for the British Isles at the Tate. He is a determinedly uncultured type who would prefer an afternoon in a pub.

Tina narrates her life in couplets too but they rhyme and enlighten, making the most of her close to impenetrable Scouse accent. She has problems with a disabled brother and dependent nan, while David looks after his troubled mum.

Why Tina doesn't tell the lecherous lout where to go after the first effortless insult is baffling but romance arrives carried along by lashings of alcohol.

We have by that stage begun to see that despite their differences, the couple have a great deal in common. How much is only revealed at the end, although an averagely attentive listener will spot the final surprise well before the half way point of The Pool's 75 or so minutes.

This play is at its best when Tina is speaking, either downplaying a hard life or creating a city for us. David however is generally less sympathetic and comes across as the kind of waster whom you would probably cross the street to avoid.

There is a special BTG ticket offer, available until the end of the run on 21st April

Reviewer: Philip Fisher