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The best small bar in town

Review: Variegated Productions, Frankie’s ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 16 November ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

I’ve known for some time that the Blue Room Theatre has the best small bar in town. But now there’s Frankie’s.

It’s intimate – you can see and hear everything that’s going on both sides of the bar, it’s lushly designed by the well-known Bryan Woltjen, and it’s got a hot house band (tonight featuring the smoky Ofa Fotu, keyboard wiz Alwyn Nixon-Lloyd and the greatest dobro player ever to emerge from the Singapore River Delta, Joe Lui).

It’s also got good, cheap drinks (the house specialty is that fine Whipper Snapper whiskey, best enjoyed neat) and a very good-looking crowd.

The best bars are real-life impromptu stories; harsh words are spoken, promises are broken, old wounds are opened and love walks out that door. The characters in its drama walk in without a script, and they are as varied and various as all humanity. There are the hard-bitten denizens, casing the joint from their familiar bar-stool, the wide-eyed young drinkers dipping their toe in the murky water of adult life, the lovesick and love-lorn, the players, the stayers, the heart of every Saturday night and every enchanted evening.

Three guys having a laugh at a bar.
Impromptu storytelling by Sam Longley, St John Cowcher, Chris Isaacs and Daniel Buckle (a different cast to that reviewed as the show changes nightly). Photo: Daniel Grant.

The ensemble of actors and musicians Libby Klysz’s Variegated Productions has gathered to people Frankie’s is, perhaps uniquely, fit for purpose. There are established stars of improv theatre like Shane Adamczak and Sam Longley who, tonight at least, are the bartenders Nigel and Keith. Another bartender, Donovan (Esther Longhurst), doesn’t want to work shifts with Keith – we never find out why, but it’s fun to guess.

There’s the barfly, Delilah (the magnetic Tegan Mulvany), who’s awful, hard and fragile as glass, and a ghost from her past. Way back then she let Devon Morris (Chris Bedding) touch a sword she brought to school. She left a party with him, just once, but ten years later his flame still burns bright for her.

Bedding is an oversize man with a great talent of presence, and the clumsy ardour of his pursuit of his first, only, love is deeply touching. It’s a wonderful performance.

All this is Sam Shephard stuff, great storytelling full of the essence of life, with all its dead ends and five-and-dime foolishness for love. I think it’s a great achievement that the cast could concoct such material out of thin air.

And, of course, it’s all very funny. This crew have been able to keep working improv in this town for sixteen-odd years by keeping their audience in stitches, and there’s plenty of them to be suffered throughout.

You should pop in to Frankie’s. There’ll be other stories, other performers telling and playing them (I’m confident this show will get heaps of repeat audiences), and you’ll be unlikely to come across a more sure-handed, true-to-life and sheer bloody funny show in any gin joint in all the towns in all the world than this.

And try the Whipper Snapper. You’ll be glad you did.

Frankie’s plays the Blue Room until December 1. Cast changes nightly.

Photos: Daniel Grant. Pictured top is Shane Adamczak in an alternative cast (changes nightly).

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