One of the wonderful things about Fringe festivals is discovering new venues, hidden away in corners of a city you thought you knew. Just up the road from me in Hampstead Theatre, I made my first visit to the Rabbit Hole NW3, located in the basement of the Duke of Hamilton pub, for a performance of Cup of Brew Productions’s Alan and Bennett.
As you’d expect, the show takes the famous playwright as its focus; however, the script is full of subtle nods to the playwright that locate the character without making the piece into a farcical or cringeworthy impression. Similarly, the performances of Isaac Bernier-Doyle and Elizabeth Cooke (as Alan and Alan… bear with us) hint at his famous Yorkshire roots, distinctive vocal timbre and dry sense of humour, but attempt homage rather than absolute imitation.
Toby King’s script geographically covers everything from Leeds to Moscow, and the mood swings from comedy to apprehension; yet this short piece still has a neat feel to it, despite the vagueness of the plot. As we wind through Alan and Alan’s thoughts, there is an increasing sense of foreboding about the cryptic and potentially dreadful darkness that lurks in the corner of the room and generates a gradually building sense of fear – loneliness, old age, death? Its interpretations are multiple, but it gives this short piece the necessary drive.
The cast of two effectively draw us into their mysterious little world, with equally strong performances from both. Cooke excels as the more confident ‘Alan’, raising many wry smiles with her sarcastic edge, while Bernier-Doyle has a softer yet nuanced role. The pair manage to strike the difficult balance between maintaining enough similarities to depict more or less the same character, whilst also building enough distinct characteristics to generate energy to bounce off each other.
In true fringe form, the venue is rather small and dingy and the seating at the back doesn’t allow the best view. However, it can boast a strong roster of past performers, and it’s credit to Cup of Brew Productions that they hold the audience’s attention without fail throughout this enigmatic play. An unusual little play no doubt, but well worth a watch and I’ll be interested to see this fledgling company’s next piece of work.