Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: The Bread and the Beer at Underbelly COwgate (Venue 61), reviewed by Alison Kerr
Wow. The Bread and The Beer must be one of the most action-packed, dynamic shows on the Fringe – which is not what one expects to say about a monologue, especially one narrated in an Olde English style. It’s also one of the quickest ways to spend an hour on the Fringe – 60 minutes seem to whizz by, thanks to writer/performer Tristan Bernays’s boundless (and occasionally overpowering) energy and charisma.
It’s the story of what happens when John Barleycorn (whose name may be familiar from the old British folk song of the same name, and from The Wicker Man), an “ancient god” of barley and the alcoholic drinks made from it, rises from the slumber of thousands of years during building work in central London.
After centuries beneath the soil, he is ready for a drink – or five – and, when he sees the landscape and lifestyle of modern man, he concludes that Londoners need some liquid escape from their grey existence and daily slog. So, with his “blood beer”, he intoxicates and leads an increasingly merry band of followers on a party that becomes a rampage through the city (even the royals aren’t immune to the lure of John’s blood-red brew), and ultimately turns into a riot.
Bernays makes the story come alive with his animated performance – he jumps about onstage and plays different characters who interact with each other – and his vivid, colourful narration, which is crammed with detail; so much, in fact, that it’s difficult to digest all he is saying. The writing is particularly impressive as much of it is, as the narrator says, “highfalutin” and very classical and poetic.
The effects are dazzling – and exhausting. Bernays grabs the attention and just doesn’t let go and by the end of the fastest 60 minutes in Edinburgh you feel as if you’ve been on an all-night bender with the beer-drinkers and John Barleycorn yourself.
MORE INFO: The Bread and the Beer is at Underbelly
Originally published in The Scotsman