Review: Floorboards at Alphabetti Theatre

Writer Steve Byron joins a talented cast treading the Floorboards to bring his dark-cloak comedy to life at Alphabetti Theatre.

Floorboards is a new play at Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle

Floorboards is a new play by and starring Steve Byron at Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle

The brilliant Bacon Knees and Sausage Fingers, which Steve Byron co-wrote and co-starred in was correctly lauded and applauded across the board during a sell-out three week run at Alphabetti Theatre back in February.

A stunning piece of theatre, which blended belly laughs and guilt-ridden gut-punches to extraordinary effect, you could have forgiven all involved for partaking in an extended period of extravagant bows and back-patting.

Not a chance – particularly when there’s a decade-in-the-making play on the stocks.

A dark comedy of pitch black proportions, Floorboards – directed in imaginative and often fanciful fashion by OddManOut’s Katy Weir – offers Steve a welcome (and quick sticks) return to the Alphabetti stage.

This time, all the action – of which there is much – takes place in the living room of a Tyneside flat, niftily put together by set designer Molly Barrett.

It’s a Tyneside flat which was once just home to James. A 40-something singleton content with his simple and straightforward lot. A ready meal for one; a mini-bottle of pinot and the telly. What’s not to like?

But now it’s home to Nellist too, a charismatic and imposing parasite who talked James – an old classmate – into letting him stay for one night, two years ago without the hint of an intention of leaving.

And, common decency aside, why would he?

Floorboards is a new play at Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle

Micky Cochrane and Malcolm Shields living the daytime TV dream as Nellist and Hoggy in Floorboards 

Nellist – captured brilliantly by Micky Cochrane – and his perpetually tiddly sidekick, Glaswegian Hoggy (bravo for a sterling comic turn from Malcolm Shields) are more than happy to while away their days smoking joints and drinking James’ beer while marvelling at the hypnotic canvas creations of daytime TV legend Bob Ross – artist extraordinaire.

While Nellist pays the odd bit of lip service to James’ requests to attend the job centre interviews on which his benefits depend and empty an ashtray now and then, there’s a menacing mood which underpins the surface level banter and leaves nobody in any doubt who’s calling the shots.

So whether Nellist is using James’ bedroom for his latest afternoon liaison – this time with Helen from school (well played, Cheryl Dixon) – or using the flat as a base for a new ‘business’ arrangement with wild-eyed local gangster Denise (you’ll all be scared of Jackie Phillips), there’s little ‘nowhere man’ James can do to stop him.

But everyone has their breaking point.

Floorboards is a new play at Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle

No-one is messing with Jackie Phillips as gangster mastermind, Denise

And although you’re not going to find any spoilers here, I think it’s fair to say that when James reaches his, things take quite the horrific turn – and spiral into darkness from there.

Byron is really great as the downtrodden James, playing his simmering anger and dreams for an easy life perfectly – and he does a cracking job on the trippy scene too.

He also deserves back pats aplenty for a writing a script pebble-dashed with proper laughs while also drawing an ensemble of utterly believable characters – despite them playing out a series of unbelievable events. Quite the feat.

Floorboards is playing Alphabetti until May 18 on a Pay What You Feel basis. And if you feel anything like I did at the end, you’ll be paying a canny bit.

@samwonfor

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