In my last review of Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal, I mentioned that there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned play to bring an audience to its senses, especially in a theatrical climate that often seems to be saturated with inaccessible, abstract productions. However, on my most recent trip to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, the tables seem to have turned; with their most recent offering, Inheritance Blues, Dugout Theatre Company have created a piece that gets the balance between naturalistic and abstract just right. In the same way that Betrayal packed a darkly dramatic punch, Inheritance Blues packs a brilliantly comedic one, and still manages to grip and command the audience – without the deathly pauses that bulk out Betrayal, of course.
Inheritance Blues follows the story of the first proper gig of fictional blues band The Hot Air Ballues (apparently their pun was very much intended). Now, most bands’ first gigs are pretty much the same: either in a run-down pub or club to an audience of three or four people – that’s how most of the legends seem to start, anyway. But in Inheritance Blues, the Hot Air Ballues’s first proper gig is at the wake of the father of two young men, who regularly debate whether he was a raging alcoholic or a legendary saxophone player. And to top it off, the band has no idea who hired them for the gig in the first place. Eventually, the band settle down and have some drinks with the young men after unwittingly opening their father’s final letter to them, and the young men tell the story of their mysterious father.
That’s the cue for a hilariously well-told narrative that draws upon the storytelling skills of everyone on stage. The story is mainly told by the Ballues themselves, who occasionally play live music to create a warm and brilliant atmosphere that settles the audience into their seats, and has them clapping and cheering along to both their witty songs and the characters alike. At some points, other characters on stage take up the bands’ instruments when needed, which demonstrates how flexible and versatile Dugout are as a company. They tell their story incredibly well with charisma and finesse, and by the end of the show they had the audience praising them with a standing ovation and rapturous applause – which I can honestly say was very well deserved.
I mentioned Betrayal at the start of this review to show how two very different shows can grip and engage an audience, and also to show the uncertainty of theatre’s future – if more companies like Dugout surface and create work that’s as brilliant as Inheritance Blues, then I’ll be very happy with the direction theatre seems to be heading in. While I appreciate a powerful, simplistic play, I also really appreciate superbly told stories like that of Inheritance Blues.
Inheritance Blues stands as a fantastic piece of theatre that engages and entertains its audience. It’s funny, fresh and original, and with Dugout performing on the same weekend as the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Furnace initiative that supports emerging companies and new work, it won’t be long before new and brilliant pieces of theatre start appearing on our stages.
Inheritance Blues played the West Yorkshire Playhouse. For more information on Dugout Theatre Company, see the West Yorkshire Playhouse website.