Countdown to Victory. That's our quiz team name although believe it or not, this blog isn't about the coolest pub quiz in Somerset! We're actually sitting in our local with a pint of Guinness and a packet of peanuts, watching failing pub landlord, Johnny, shout out quiz questions with the air of a man drowning in the quicksand of mounting debt - and one who's a moment away from being completely pulled under.
He's knocking back the booze and desperately trying to keep this "Big Fun Night" going, because tonight is all about trying to raise enough money to make sure his pub stays open - and, let's be honest, it's not going great!
He's already sold Susie's beloved horse without telling her. Susie is Johnny's long suffering wife. She's left him and she's shacked up in a nearby caravan owned by an enigmatic farmer who seems to be everything Johnny isn't...
Johnny's mate's just got up to treat us all to a surprise Morris Dance in the bar to raise a few extra quid...
... and well, we've won a packet of Pot Pourri in the raffle, so you can just imagine how the rest of this weird and wonderful evening might pan out! ;)
Anyway, we all rally round, dig deep and pop our 'Bank of Somerset' money into the well-worn collection hat that's passed round the boozer. We part with LOTS of our hard cash after Johnny's Elvis impersonation leaves us with tears of laughter rolling down our beer-flushed cheeks. It's one of the best and worst Hound Dogs we've ever witnessed (and we've seen a fair few, let me tell you)...
Laughter soon turns to something else entirely though, as the pressure gets too much for Johnny and he unravels before our very eyes. In the intimate setting of the pub lounge, any tears are now for the pain of lost relationships, the inability to swallow your pride and for the heartbreak of taking for granted the person you love most in the world.
By now, you'll have probably guessed that this isn't any ordinary pub fundraiser. It's actually Wassail Theatre's latest show Horses! Horses! which has been playing out in local pubs up and down Somerset - and if you haven't seen it, it's basically bleeping brilliant (now there's a quote for the poster ;)).
Johnny (played with awkward comedy genius by George Williams ) gets our support, sympathy and distain in equal measure, as he makes a mess of pretty much everything in a genuinely desperate attempt to save his pub, himself and his marriage.
Kesty Morrison, who simply shines as Johnny's 'end of her tether' wife Susie, gets our wholehearted frustration and feeling that if she can just resist the hunky farmer down the road, her heart might still, underneath it all, belong to her self-destructing husband.
And then there's Eoin Slattery who plays said hunky farmer, Ted - a softly spoken, spiritual, man of mystery... at one with the land, his horses and a guy who has all the wise words, smouldering emotion and good sense that makes the story anything but predictable.
Eoin plays it perfectly, wins our admiration and together, the three of them do an incredible job of bringing writer Rhina Vergano's darkly comic script to life. They perform with a tenderness, passion and power that at times leaves you breathless - and as the story plays out right in front of you in the pub, you see every little movement, every glance, every grimace on their faces, which makes it raw and completely captivating.
For us, there's also something magical about theatre performed in unexpected places and Wassail always has a surprise up the sleeve when it comes to location. Whether it's a local community centre, on the back of a horse and cart, out on a hill high above West Coker or here, in the warmth of your local boozer, the location and the audience's role in the whole experience (in this case being part of a pub quiz team and the community that's helping to save The Nag's Head) means it's all the more absorbing.
The performance is also peppered with a host of acapella tunes that send a shiver down the spine and whether you're engrossed in one of the sweetly sung songs, chuckling at one of Johnny's many misjudged moments, or caught up in the developing friendship between Ted and Susie, it's a rollercoaster of emotions that by the end of the ride leaves you wishing this really was The Nag's Head and these were your friends... for all their flaws.
All in all, Horses! Horses! is a spellbinding, heartbreaking cracker of a tale full of laughter, surprises and second chances and let's be honest... when it comes to being reminded of the mess we can all make of our relationships, finances, hopes and dreams, there's no better place to be than down the local pub. We'll definitely drink to that!
If you caught our radio interview with Wassail's Artistic Producer, Nick White, you'll know that the final show of this run of Horses! Horses! is Sunday 21st October, at Wells Little Theatre. It's now sold out, but we're hoping that the horses might be galloping back for another run very soon. You can follow the guys at Wassail Theatre on Twitter to check what they're up to next and you can be sure we'll be keeping our eyes peeled too!
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