Joe's NYC Bar

Fri 5th – Sun 28th August 2016

reviews

Isobel Roser

at 09:20 on 8th Aug 2016

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It would be fair to say that I felt somewhat apprehensive about the prospect of an evening of interactive theatre based upon a fictitious bar in Brooklyn. However my fears are soon alleviated after the bar opens for business. It becomes apparent that the actors are not out to embarrass or put people on-the-spot, they instead want to compel their audience into contributing, garner their opinions and riff off these ideas. This is immersive and interactive theatre at its best, a two-way conversation between audience and cast where invisible barriers are free to be broken down.

The genius of ‘Joe’s NYC Bar’ is the ability of the cast to make their audience forget that they are watching a production. It did not take long before audience members were questioning the views of the bar workers and regulars, as well as nodding passionately at remarks they agreed with. The funky, soulful tones of house band ‘DopeSickFly’ only added to the genial ambience. The relaxed nature of the intimate bar setting created the perfect atmosphere for this form of immersive theatre, in which people felt comfortable enough to express their own opinions.

A unique and varied cast of characters keep the pace going throughout, pulling the discussion in new directions. Piper, the effervescent bouncer checks IDs on the door, while bartender Jet takes to the stage to perform her alternative form of poetry. Frank is out to antagonise, helping to rile up the audience in various ways. This ensemble cast work together with real ease, bouncing off one another with their back-and-forth improvisation.

Like any bar, subject matter at ‘Joe’s’ remains varied throughout, however themes of loyalty, trust and American identity keep cropping up. The right to bear arms proves a sustained source of fruitful discussion, keeping the audience intently engaged. ‘Joe’s’ humble bar provides the setting for a commentary on both the pitfalls and blessings of the American way of life. The fierce loyalty and trusting relationship between the cast of characters is seen in abundance, while the reality of gun crime sears a sharp contrast.

Christian Kelty’s interactive show has already proven itself a popular fixture at the Orlando Fringe Festival, but it was always going to be interesting to see how a British audience would respond to this form of theatre. A triumph of improvisation and interaction, the cast of ‘Joe’s’ are able to draw in their audience, as opposed to forcing them into an uncomfortable limelight. Excellent performances combined with the intelligent setting make for a show that is brimming with potential. Intriguing, amusing and utterly absorbing, this show will leave you wanting to stay for one more drink.

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Emily Cole

at 10:14 on 8th Aug 2016

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After some initial crowd management outside the venue, the queue rolled in to be interrogated by the bar’s blue-haired, wacky and incredibly loveable bouncer, Piper, with her thick Brooklyn accent and delightful improvisation equating to a plane ticket and yellow cab ride to downtown Brooklyn. The velvety smooth voice and funky bass rhythm of in-house band, DopeSickFly sets the tone for a fun and heart-warming evening; an expectation far from the truth, with an evening that swiftly turned in an in-depth, tense and often heated discussion on American culture and gun-crime.

Encouraged to speak our minds, the enjoyable environment dissolved upon touching the very sensitive nerve of Orlando shootings to an audience with members from the town itself. The atmosphere in the room switched from a comforting haven to an eerily cold setting, provoking very real anger and frustration from the audience from bigoted opinions of an NYPD officer. A tricky and difficult discussion to have to manage as a cast, yet the Beckett Thomas Productions team, with their welcoming family-like approach, highlighted the importance of actually discussing these issues in a safe and mature environment. Even the entertaining release of DopeSickFly was scattered with important messages, singing "there’s no black and white people" and "break down all barriers". The production is not so much an immersive drama but rather a dissection of the audience’s thoughts and beliefs. A division between British and American, left-wing and right-wing, good and bad, quickly emerges.

Having fully fallen in to the Brooklyn Bar rabbit-hole, the conversation of guns becomes very uneasy, where the sudden reality of how easily someone could bring in a gun to a place such as this hits the audience. This makes the show somewhat uncomfortable with a building tension that is clearly leading to a plot-twist left many people on the edge of their seat, for fear of a gun being pulled. The only saving grace was the diffusion of said tension at the hands of the hilariously charming Piper and the sensational funk exuding from the DopeSickFly stage.

In a somewhat anti-climatic plot twist, attempts to curve the discussion round to a form of conclusion resulted in a defense against American culture; that they are in the ‘adolescent stage’ of their history and it all just ‘takes time’, a point seemingly dismissive of the important messages delivered from both audience and cast members. Nevertheless, 'Joe’s NYC Bar' is a hugely entertaining and thought-provoking production definitely worth seeing and getting involved with, just be prepared for some hard truths and lots of cheeky banter with the bouncer.

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