Rum and Vodka

NANCY NAPPER CANTER finds a rigorous foil to exam-term sobriety.

Alcohol Booze conor mcpherson jacob shephard niall wilson rum rum and vodka vodka

Corpus Playroom, 22nd– 26th May, 7pm, £5-6

Directed by Niall Wilson

[rating: 4/5]

Rum and Vodka, as you can guess, is the story of one big ‘booze-a-rama’. It’s a one-man show, detailing the lash-fuelled long weekend of a young, married man in the Dublin suburbs. Jacob Shephard, as its one man, is excellent. He’s even excellent before the show begins. Emerging busily to meet, greet, and take our tickets, Shephard revels in his pre-act act. I recommend arriving early.

The improv melts nicely into Conor McPherson’s pithy, acerbic script. Shephard lilts his seedy story with the sort of confident comic brio of a great stand-up. Like any good comedian, Shephard quickly forges a strong sense of audience/performer intimacy. Details such as, ‘I got sick in her shoe’, or, ‘I’m not going to go into the sordid details’ are shared with a cheeky, knowing grin, inviting us in on the joke. We willingly complied.

In his school-boyish getup of white shirt, badly-tied tie and black plimsolls, Shephard embodies the naïveté underlying his character. He guffaws when talking about his sex life, summarises an intensely depressing anecdote with, ‘that’s real bonkers!’, and grins artlessly when remembering the business venture his friends devise on a piss up: ‘we were going to be gardeners.’

But much as I enjoyed the company of this cheeky chappy, his delivery occasionally clashed with the script. Granted – his boyish charm is necessary to explain many of the situations recounted. But the story also demands something more frightening. When the hero comments early on that his life is ‘one big sordid detail’, we giggle along with him. Some of the details, however, are too big and too sordid to be giggled at. Playing a misogynistic, racist alcoholic nurturing a class-grudge, Shephard was too often just a bit too endearing.

He did have one killer weapon to counteract the cute with though: eye contact. This was worth a star in itself. Shephard not only looked at each member of the audience – not a big claim, unfortunately – he really bored into each eyeball, drilling in the discomfort. He was able to draw reactions out of his audience, as well – when, staring right at me, he commented, smiling, ‘the girl smiled… she smiled at me’, I smiled at him.

There were a couple of minor quibbles. Considering the grotesque quantity of alcohol involved in the hero’s botched-up adventures, greater fun could have been had making Shephard look more booze-battered. In a show of so few props, it slightly bothered me that the wedding ring was on the wrong hand. But this is pedantry. Shephard’s is a witty, memorable performance, rounded off with a terrifically atmospheric final moment. I urge you to see for yourself. Rum and Vokda is a great antidote to exam-term sobriety.