By Peter Yolland
‘Double Top’ was originally written for the Hull Truck Theatre Company. However, this production amounted to a world premiere as the author Ron Rose kindly agreed to revise certain scenes specially for BLT.
Set in the North of England, the play revolves around Marie, a recent graduate who sets up a research project with her lecturer Rob – with whom she has an extracurricular liaison – acting as her mentor. Marie’s project is to be based around a women’s self-awareness group who decide to form a darts team and enter a local pub darts competition.
To accompany her on this journey of self-discovery, Marie enlists Kath, who works behind the bar of the pub the White Hart as well as Chris and Jackie, two friends who drink there. The ladies win their first round match with little help from Marie, who is seen as the outsider and weak link by her team-mates.
The play leads us through the team’s progression in the competition showing how their involvement strengthens the group. Along the way, we also learn the characters’ back-stories: Jackie has a teenage daughter, who is trying to get off drugs; Chris has lived a life of casual sexual relationships, while Kath – the team captain – is in is in a long-term on-off relationship with a serial philandering businessman.
As the motherly Kath, Jane Lobb cleverly showed the character’s growth, dealing with her drunken abusive ex-husband before transforming herself for her date with her on-off businessman boyfriend. Her scene after her visit to the “passion wagon” where she spoke about the role of and expectations of women was particularly moving.
Jaimi Keemer also excelled as Jackie, particularly in the moving scene concerning the death of her daughter. Her return as the larger-than-life “Kirstie-f***ing-gobsh*te-MacDonald” was an amazing transformation with great use of facial expression, voice and costume to create a totally different character.
Claire Darlington portrayed Chris, the good-time girl, with spot-on comic timing, fully inhabiting the character’s singing, dancing, full-of-life personality. The sensitivity of Bethan Boxall’s first-rate performance as Marie drew us in with her as she went on a journey of self-discovery, progressing from outsider to being ‘one of the girls’, giving Bethan ample opportunity to once again display the quality we have come to expect from her.
All the male roles were convincingly played by the versatile Piers Newman, who managed to bring a distinctiveness to each character, from Brian, the rough but lovelorn licensee, to the policeman who deals so sympathetically with Jackie when delivering the news of her daughter’s death. His turn as the male stripper – complete with actual strip – was brave and well-appreciated by the audience (!).
Tony Jenner’s set design, complete with dartboard and regulation ‘oche’, was terrific and the use of speakers to mimic the dart sound coupled with a ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ soundtrack created great suspense in the darts sequences, even causing audience members to turn their heads to watch the invisible ‘darts’ land. Praise must here go to Holly Marsh, who deftly handled the many music, sound and lighting effects that helped shift the scenes seamlessly from pub to pub.
Jess Jenner’s assured direction brought Ron Rose’s specially-revised version of the script wonderfully to life, making our compact bar performance area take on Tardis-like qualities by squeezing in another bar, a real jukebox and a dartboard area.
Special plaudits also for the stylistic slow-motion pub fight scene, created by Emma Christmas, which also worked really well in such a small space.
Would I allow those involved in this production into my bar? Yes, as this was a truly (Double) Top production, and the swear box would certainly boost BLT’s fundraising efforts!