Thursday, September 28

Cola Boy – The Space @ Symposium Hall

This show kicked off on Monday (13th) with a full house and Thursday & Friday are already sold out. It’s in of those infamously ‘intimate’ Fringe venues so move fast if you want the experience; for that primarily is what this is, rather a fleeting one at that. How many times have you heard the cliché ‘The book’s much better’?

Author Ryan Battles did actually live and work in Dubai, his book an enjoyable, adventurous tome pulling few punches about a place he has ‘no desire to ever travel to again.’ However, squeezed into 40 minutes it ends up highlighting just two themes; the death (and ghostly return) of Jimmy’s bezzy mate Andy, and the nerve-shredding trip back to London to traffic 70 grammes of coke back into Dubai.

We’re welcomed in from a drenched Hill Square by a groovy stewardess and the warm lope of Orbital’s ‘Belfast’ (tonight’s DJ curator DJ Dribbler has ‘Orbital Tour DJ’ on his CV). Then Jimmy (Ross Bailey) and Andy (Alexander Butler) appear where the story begins, in Aberdeen, two pals with big ideas, which start to bear fruit until disaster strikes. With only a bottle of whisky for company, Jimmy’s morose state is interrupted by the phone ringing (1996, remember) and next thing we’re in Dubai, a bedroom, a woman in silky nightwear, a lively sexual encounter followed by a row and Alison (Poppy Abbott) who we… sort of… learn is a stewardess, dressing hastily for a flight to… Lahore. Though what’s important about the destination, how does Jimmy know…. why is she upset that he knows? These are a couple of the many lost points as the show hurtles towards an ending that felt like it should have been an interval. By the way, who’s Michelle (Molly Jayne-Graham), one of Alison’s colleagues, a flatmate, another love-interest of Jimmy’s? All of a sudden she and Jimmy are in a Heathrow hotel room about to take receipt of £7k worth of coke destined for Dubai, but what circumstances have propelled the duo to undertake such a risky manoeuvre? If you’ve read the book you’ll know but if not then the message is pretty scrambled.

It’s a good, tense scene as Jimmy anxiously ponders Andy’s ghostly voice dispensing precise instructions for anyone wishing to insulate unwieldy amounts of chang from over-curious customs officials. Omar (brilliantly played by Sunjay Midda) arrives, and the atmosphere crackles with humour and menace. But then the fourth – or in this case maybe fifth – wall is broken as the DJ positioned to our right reveals himself to be the author, reassuring Jimmy that he’s only a character in a book. Jimmy’s confused, but so, as the cast take their bows, are we!

Reviewer: Roger Jacobs

Reviewed: 15th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.