There is one thing that almost all American comedies seem to have in common: a bar. Cheers, Moe’s, McLaren’s – each one provides a setting where the characters congregate and those you drink with are those you share your life with. Although these enviably friendly watering holes are usually restricted to television, Joe’s NYC Bar invites us behind the screen in a funny and flawlessly executed show, where the barrier between the spectator and the spectated is removed.
The immersive theatre begins in the queue, with interactions between the audience and the fantastically sassy bouncer (Anita Pritchard-Bryant). While this may sound like a nightmare for some, the conversations are warm, friendly and respectful. The actors seem to have a 6th sense for boundaries and do not encroach them. At times, it is hard to tell whether some really are characters or have just been drinking at Cowgate since 4pm.
Likewise, once inside the bar the distinctions between the audience, the actors and the actual bar staff are minimal. Actors are interspersed throughout the audience, who are encouraged to speak up. Indeed, the semi-improvised nature of the show means that the spectators have some power to direct the conversation. The success of the complete immersion is also due to the incredible realist acting that is sustained throughout the entire show. Christian Kelty deserves a special mention for his portrayal of the straight talking yet warm-hearted owner of Joe’s. Tim Williams also gives an outstanding performance as Roger, the corporate hack with a heart.
The show begins as a regular scene in a regular bar. With banter, and jibes and witty reposts, it is just like watching a real group of friends. However, the discussion takes a serious turn when the future bar is threatened by one of its own regulars: a slick property developer who disregards history in favour of gentrified “improvement”. This change in tone does not make the show any less engaging. It seems that everybody – actors and audience alike – have something to say in the debate of history versus regeneration. The topic seems to particularly resonate with those from London, who draw parallels between the homogenisation of New York and their city across the pond.
With a refreshing format, relevant topic and exceptional acting – not to mention the undeniably cool setting of Just the Tonic – Joe’s NYC Bar is an equally enjoyable and interesting experience. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching a play, but taking part in both a night out and a debate. Whether you choose to participate or enjoy being a fly on the wall, you are welcomed into the family of the bar.