Soho’s Upstairs theatre has been transformed into a typical British betting shop for the week; a simple bar, a slot machine, some stools and tables, and an abundance of pens. The year is 2006, and the local brewery is closing. And Rose’s betting shop might not be far behind…
Justin Hopper’s Flutter sketches the lives of the two women behind the bar and five men in front of the TV screens in this very English establishment. Young, old, white, black, sensible and less sensible, they make up an interesting group, played by a very diverse cast. A cast that’s almost matched by its audience in diversity. From businessmen in suits to young hipster-looking Asians and elderly couples, Compulsive Theatre have managed to attract a range of different people to their show.
Rose has managed this betting shop for over three decades, and is now assisted by Kelly, who has been knocked up by Ajay. Tom has ventured into what he calls “professional gambling” in an attempt to provide a higher standard of life for his family – no matter what his godfather Dennis says to dissuade him. Midas is the town schizo, and Yankee Bob, well no one really knows who he is. But they all come together, day after day, in the same place, drinking beer and making bets.
The play deals with a number of big themes, from unplanned pregnancy to loneliness to addiction, mental health and love at and old age, and yet it never feels too much, or like any of these are shoehorned in. This is an achievement, and the play is pleasant to watch. Mark Keegan in particular is very likeable as Dennis, and Richie Donaldson makes a great Midas, eliciting both unease and sympathy at the same time. Nicken Kotak’s Ajay is a little less convincing, but it’s hard to tell whether this is due to his acting or the slightly one-dimensional nature of his character.
As charming as the play is, however, it is also a little tame. Tom’s downfall is predictable from the start, and apart from one or two moments, there are hardly any surprising events. A few lines border on being too cheesy, but apart from that, the script delivers the story well. There are some genuinely funny moments, and the end is rather moving. Flutter is a bittersweet betting shop drama that ends on a heartening note. For those who have never been, a great little insight into a peculiar world.
Flutter is playing at the Soho Theatre until 16 June
Photo: Soho Theatre