Love is in the air at the Pickles household. Mariah Pickles and her dopey boyfriend Jarvis are expecting their first child, Baby GaGa. Mariah’s mum loves her Bobby, but he’s inside. Her son, Carlton, is looking for love on the Internet, and even Nana Pickles is on the lookout for love. But when Wheelchair Barry takes her on a date to a psychic supper, she is contacted by a lover from the other side..
MaD Theatre Co, producers of Gin and Chronic Arthritis, have a long and distinguished track record of producing quality drama. They also provide workshops to help disadvantaged or disabled adults and children to boost confidence and boost accreditation and employment prospects for its members. Benefiting from a recent appearance on Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire, this is the first drama piece that they intend to take on a national tour.
The set design is innovative, with the front room of the Pickles flat having a television built into the bar-cum-mantelpiece. This is used nicely as a narrative device to add a few short and nice period video pieces throughout the play. As such, the play has been specifically designed for studio theatres like The Lass O’Gowrie’s. The flatly lit set gives way to a colourful flashback to the past, neatly showing differences between then, and now.
The cast all give solid and accomplished performances. Especially standout is Joe Wandera as Carlton. A very interesting actor to watch, his comic timing is impeccable. Also of note are Rosie Phillips and Jack Williamson as Mariah and Jarvis. The couple effortlessly flit between the chavtastic modern day couple and the more refined 60’s pairing of a young Marilyn and Eddie. Williamson, especially has a wonderful knack for skipping between characters, especially in his re-telling of his encounter with Wheelchair Barry. Holding the family together are Carol Bradley as mum Brenda and co-writer Jill Hughes as Marilyn, the Nana. Dressed as the offspring of Pat Butcher and Liz McDonald, her story taking her from a search for love through to the ghosts of the past is an emotional one.
The family dynamic and clashing personalities within could be construed as annoying and irritating by some, but it is testament to the cast that their energy and obvious enthusiasm is infectious and sells the characters to the audience – especially as there is a rather large cast for such a small setting. The various characters search for love brings up some interesting situations – some with hilarious consequences – but here, modern day love means that Jarvis is the “doner meat” to Mariah’s “kebab”, whereas more ‘vintage’ love is shown to be a much-more fulfilling experience for the aging Nana and Eddie.
Overall, Gin and Chronic Arthritis is a touching piece with a broad appeal. Characters on the periphery are broadly drawn with names like Minicab Masood, or Wheelchair Barry giving you a flavour of the wider world beyond the Pickles flat whilst the Pickles family themselves have enough going on in their unpredictable world that you’d be forgiven for wondering what could possibly happen next…! Very fun stuff, if slightly unfocused in some places. It would benefit from being tighter and slicker in a couple of areas, especially in the first act, but there are tweaks that I’m sure will happen to the production as it goes on tour. But in terms of brining a Mancunian family a la Shameless into the studio theatres and theatres above pubs up and down the country – I suspect some towns and cities are not going ot know what has hit them when the Pickles family move into town…!
The Fiction Stroker gives Gin and Chronic Arthritis three strokes out of five:
You can find out more about MaD on their website including further tour dates for Gin and Chronic Arthritis