It’s rare to find music as the star of a piece that isn’t outwardly a musical, but Ablutions is just that: an intriguing adaptation of Patrick DeWitt’s booze-soaked novel that lurches between dream and drunken memory.
The play centres around a nameless barkeep more bard than barman at times. It charts his realisation that the endless nights of endless pouring are ultimately futile, offering scarce option of escape other than to slow his inevitable circle down the drain. As someone “attempting to count the scars on his palms after years of broken glass”, Eoin Slattery is mesmeric here, a faded loser capable of casting tragic glints of hope amid the wonderfully evoked detritus of his life.
Along for the downward spiral are but two co-stars who ably play a wide variety of characters drawn seemingly from the danker reaches of a Tom Waits LP. In his stand out depiction as the lecherous pervert Simon, Harry Humberstone dominates with a sleazy garrulous abandon. Fiona Mikel’s depictions are equally deft through their variety, the actress supremely confident as both the protagonist’s tragic nurse wife and a clumsy Burlesque dancer he later spends the night with amid a disastrous Grand Canyon road trip.
Amongst this enjoyable but somewhat well-trodden dramatic soil, it is the music that lifts Ablutions. Upon entry to the Assembly Roxy, the cast are already playing on stage, a harmonica wheezing reluctant over steady strums. The ever-inventive Greek chorus of the guitar features heavily throughout too and its chief wielder, Ben Osborn, must be commended. Able to both pinch and squeeze demonic notes as the barman plummets further, before returning to the sour Americana lilt soundtrack that perfumes the entirety of the piece.
Slightly underwhelming conclusion aside, Ablutions is certainly worth your time, a possessed carousel of characters and noise that scores a deep impression through its intelligent stagecraft and relentless despair.
Ablutions is at the Assembly Roxy (Venue 139) until 25 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe Website.