Benjamin Wolff reviews

BEDFEST 2020: The Closing of a Small and Insignificant Bowling Alley

The Closing of a Small and Insignificant Bowling Alley, written by Ned Dunne and performed by The Counterminers, is a play that does not pertain to greatness, nor that much to high comedy, yet it is exactly in its imperfections that the beauty of this play lies. Bowling Alley is a play set in the made-up town of Longstanton concerning (as the title may suggest) the closing of a bowling alley after a strange and mysterious man from London (Rick) buys the building. The play follows the concerns and struggles of the bowling alley’s employees as they panic over the prospect of losing their jobs. The focus of the play is the plight of the manager ‘Sam’, a woman who has never left Longstanton, struggles with an alcoholic mother and feels unable to be anything but the manager of the bowling alley.

However, the plot is not the strength of this play. It is in fact the weakness of the plot that becomes the play’s greatest asset. The performance was filled with beautifully humorous moments of metadrama and utter destruction of the fourth wall. From players calling out the incongruities of the script, to utterance such as ‘Why do you have to say it like you’re in a play?’ and ‘This is my bit, can you fuck off’, to the very humorous set design containing novelties such as a sign above one exit which said ‘This way to other bowling lanes’ and a sign above another which said ‘This way to other plot lines’. However, the most successful and side-splitting metadramatic aspect came from the BBC Longstandon Radio interludes.

In between scenes the stage would go dark and the theatre would fill with the poorly recorded sound of men singing the BBC Longstandon Radio news jingle. At first these interludes contained news reports pertaining to the acquisition of a new soup cooker in Longstanton (surprisingly an aspect which becomes a major plot point), yet halfway through the play, the broadcast enters what it calls the ‘Metasection’ as a variety of pundits comment on the flaws and shortcomings of the script and performance. The ‘Metasection’ reaches its own metadramatic climax when an audience member with a microphone comments on the effectiveness of the radio interludes and ‘Metasection’ as a plot device. This is a play that unravels and undoes itself in a beautiful and hilarious fashion.

Beyond the metadramatic aspects there is also some fine writing and acting to be found. The character of Jess, a recently released cat murderer with a Hugh Jackman obsession, is a particularly absurd and amusing character. The relationship between Jess and Rick, is derisive, antagonistic and beautifully comic, culminating in the utterance ‘Every interaction with you in an embarrassment.’ The unexpected introduction of perfect French regarding the matter of a ‘Pret a Manger’ almost left me falling from my seat. Yet, to be the harshest critic, I did find that the play lacked the strength to carry the quite serious secondary narrative of the relationship between Sam and her alcoholic mother. However, as I said at the beginning, this is not a play you watch for its plot. It is a fantastic night of comedy and frivolity, which if the opportunity ever arises, I urge you to enjoy.

The Closing of a Small and Insignificant Bowling Alley performed at the Bedlam Theatre on 23 January 2020, as part of BEDFEST 2020.