Date Show – Menu Two | Review
The MAC, Belfast • Wednesday 31 January ’18
By Stewart Robson
Being led down into a basement generally isn’t the way you’d like a date to start. You’d probably be grabbing your phone to call a parent, the police or some kind of saviour for help.
However, it’s all part of the act, and not as foreboding as it first sounds.
From the outset, you feel like this production is going to be like no other. Date Show quashed any pre-date nerves I may have had for how it would come across to a wind and rain-beaten Belfast audience. I was ready to delve into the world of online dating with its flaws and triumphs displayed in abundance.
I chose Menu Two, without even looking at what sumptuous love-filled delights were on offer. It was a skillful ploy by Threes Theatre Company, tingling the taste buds of love-hungry theatergoers who were up for getting stuck into dating scenarios that covered all ages and both sexes. Eager onlookers, dominated by women.
“I hope you enjoy your date,” our guide says.
“Thanks,” I say back. It didn’t take long for me to fall into character.
The basement presents us with a young gentleman swooning the crowd in the soppy, yet recognisable, Can You Feel The Love Tonight by Sir Elton John. The backdrop, grey mundane school lockers, are plastered with love notes and an old EasyJet ticket making the setting believable. We’re starting in the grassroots of romance. The school days. The innocent days. Innocent until a girl bursts out of a locker and joins in the rendition before explicitly stating what they desire. The ukulele player, Dan Leith, and his (singing) partner harmonise well.
It’s at this point where the audience is separated, and we are taken away on two different pathways.
Menu Two participants are whisked away to a seating area and handed the retro, silent-disco-esque headphones. Our appetiser serves up Cathy Brennan-Bradley, who invites us into her Tinder-fantasy world and reassures us that her repetitive strain injury is due to too much swiping, and not what you may have first thought.
We’re then welcomed into the male toilets. Yes, you read that right. Welcomed, with the assurance that they ‘have been cleaned’ by our guide shortly before our entrance. Reassuring.
Upon entry, we are transported back to 1990s Saturday night television. John (Gary Crossan), our pep-talking, suave, polar-necked, silky-haired individual is heard from the cubicle singing the theme tune to Blind Date. His impression of Cilla Black is quite uncanny, bar the dress and ginger hair, but his comical episode involving himself, the mirror and a splash of water to the face is entertaining.
In the vast majority, this is a piece of theatre that is full of good humour and relatable in so many ways to each of our lives. Maybe not singing the theme tune to Blind Date in a toilet cubicle, but the awkwardness and nervousness of dating.
Yet, the next scene with Robert Palmer and Lynne Webber, reminds us of the fact that love doesn’t end after the honeymoon period of youth. The headphones are placed back on my head, and the audience begin to hear the softly spoken words of a lady against the clatter of a busy restaurant. Sitting opposite us are two older lovebirds. Entrenched in the challenges of growing old, including memory loss and the inability to perhaps show love the way they did when they were younger, we listen to their thoughts as they sit facing each other at the table. A stark reminder of the journey that couples go on through life. Love appears to triumph. A touching moment executed perfectly.
Never Sometimes, Always takes us into perhaps the most awkward date I’ve never been on. A suited-up bloke, adorned with a red flower, awaits his date. Thomas Finnegan is one nervous man and he’s not made to feel much better by his waiter who shows him to his seat, wedged between a pillar and the table. Tight squeeze. The episode is an awkward rollercoaster of emotions as he runs through his pre-planned notes, standing up and working out how he will greet his lady. ‘Tragically’, is what I’m thinking. What happens is tragic indeed.
As our main course continues, despite having digested quite a lot of romance and dejection already, this production keeps creating room for a little bit more. Love in 2 Taps invites us into the date of two guys, one millennial and one professional. (Can you be both?)
Anyway, it’s once again an awkward encounter but the language is sharp and witty and both actors (Gerard Kelly and Daniel Kelly) keep the scene moving at a good pace. A fairy-tale ending from a date that had its issues from the start. As both groups join to receive instructions from the handbook of love from Johnny Valour (Dan Leith), it feels like we are prepped for taking on the battles of love. The eccentric character is a born leader, riling up his troops to take on the minefield of dating dos and don’ts. We stand to attention.
In what already feels like an experiment, my group are then sat around a table for lashings of dessert. Yet the contrasting setting of a French scientist dressed in a lab coat holding a clipboard, against the nature of questions we put to a pregnant Vanessa (Jessica Samoy-Plunkett) works brilliantly. We are instructed to put life’s deepest questions to her as the sharp and sassy Madame Scientifique keeps us all in check.
We come full circle a revisit our Cilla (John) as he prepares to meet his girl. Although we all have that one mate like Paul. Paul is John’s best mate and interrupts his preparations, dressed sharply in a suit, bursting into the restaurant and creating havoc. A real highlight of the production as a stellar performance from Chris Grant, who along with Crossan, creates a Morecambe and Wise style piece of comedy.
The final scene as my fellow writer Conor has alluded too is quite sublime. It captures the essence of romance, young and old and seals the kiss on this excellent whirlwind performance.
It’s no wonder why tickets are being snapped up so quickly.