A man walks into a ‘bar’. He’s given a free foamy cup of lager and a lump of cheese. The punchline is 75 minutes of meta-theatre; a show about a show, ‘Lost in La Mancha’ style, packed with singing, sparklers and the eponymous rum of the title.
Created by Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit, ‘Drink Rum…’ takes us through their pre-pandemic journey to Malta, where they’ve been commissioned by a friend to produce a fringe show in Valetta, in celebration of its year as European Capital of Culture.
The base of operations, which is recreated as our set for tonight’s proceedings, is The Pub (its actual name), a small hostelry favoured by the late, great Sir Oliver Reed, as his drinking den of choice during the filming of Gladiator. Famously, it’s where he also breathed his last and a shrine (with a handy selection of merchandise) has been set up in his honour.
Sir Oliver isn’t our focus though; instead, we are given a whistle-stop tour of the expats that frequent the bar, under growing shadows of a migrant crisis and political corruption that results in the assassination of a popular local journalist.
It’s an entertaining yet curious show. The girls are charming hosts, with sharp comic timing, an engaging patter through their storytelling and a well-received tendency to ply their audience with booze.
The slideshow that accompanies our tale is a clever concoction of holiday snaps, headlines and hedonism that has apparently left their Maltese booking agent questioning her commissioning choices.
It gives us a whimsical glimpse into the melting pot of people and politics that we might recognise in our own hometowns, but drops a few uncomfortable home truths, at whiplash speed, about the darker belly of Malta.
Given some of the strong themes covered by the show – censorship, murder, torture – it doesn’t quite deliver the angry punch one might expect. Perhaps as the result of this being revived following the lockdown and tonight being the end of a tour, the delivery has a tone of weariness rather than fury at the status quo.
It might not be clear what the takeaway from tonight is meant to be – perhaps that underneath all the sunshine and rum, Malta suffers from the same issues of corruption, xenophobia and scandal that bubble under the surface of our own small island – but it is delivered in authentic, unvarnished style that keeps its audience involved in our duo’s misadventures.
For what’s on at the Unity Theatre, visit www.unitytheatreliverpool.co.uk
Reviewer: Lou Steggals
Reviewed: 15th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★