Theatre Review: CHIP SHOP CHIPS – The Hub, Salford

Chip Shop Chips

CHIP SHOP CHIPS is a funny and warm-hearted play which will leave you with a full belly and a smile on your face

Seven years after her collaboration with Box of Tricks on LETTING IN AIR (2009), acclaimed playwright Becky Prestwich makes a welcome return to the stage with her new play CHIP SHOP CHIPS.

Set during the grand reopening of Booth’s Fish & Chip Shop, CHIP SHOP CHIPS is a funny and nostalgic tale of family, love and the nation’s favourite food. It tells the story of prodigal son Eric, who returns home after 40 years to run the family chip shop following his brother’s heart attack. But Eric’s big plans are thrown into disarray when his childhood sweetheart Christine unexpectedly turns up. Widowed and lonely, Christine is wondering if there’s still time for one last big romance. Meanwhile, young love blossoms between teenagers Lee and Jasmine. Can love conquer all or is history bound to repeat itself?

Described as a dinner, dance and a show all rolled into one, CHIP SHOP CHIPS is a unique theatrical experience like no other. Performing in unusual venues across the North, including libraries, community centres and museums, the play cleverly transports you back to a time of chippy teas and Northern Soul.

By the time the audience arrive to take their place at the tables, which are neatly set out in true chip-shop style with chequered red and white table cloths, the actors are already in character. Eric (Russell Richardson) and Lee (Ben-Ryan Davies) deliver the fish supper direct to the table, watching as the audience wash it down with old school drinks like Bitter Shandy, Cloudy Lemonade and Dandelion and Burdock. A lot of effort has clearly gone into the setting of the play and Katie Scott’s retro set certainly looks the part, making use of raised platforms so the audience can see the actors.

Scene is set for #ChipShopChips at The Hub #localtheatre #fishandchips #boxoftricks

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Like many great plays, CHIP SHOP CHIPS truly shines in the writing. For many Brits, fish and chips are rich in memories and playwright Prestwich captures this effortlessly, even allowing the audience to share some of their own via the memory cards on the tables. The story is simple but effective, with its themes of tradition, family, love and nostalgia shining through both in the script, but also in the acting.

Russell Richardson stars as Eric, the 60 something drifter who fancies himself as a bit of a showman. Richardson does a fantastic job of encouraging the audience to get involved, making them laugh with his terrible fish puns and dodgy dance moves. His chemistry with Julie Edwards, who is equally good as his childhood sweetheart Christine, is both natural and believable.

Jessica Forrest impresses in her stage debut as Jasmine, the head-strong teenager who clearly doesn’t want to be at the chip shop until she meets Lee. The actress, who played Lianne Holliday in HOLLYOAKS, effortlessly captures what it feels like to be young and falling in love for the first time. But the true star of the piece is Ben-Ryan Davies as the shy and hapless Lee, playing his character with both charm and likeability.

While all of the actors make good use of the space, weaving in and around the audience as they deliver their lines, there are a couple of occasions when it is difficult to hear the dialogue. One example of this is the section where the quiz questions are juxtaposed with Christine’s monologues. Often the murmurs of excitement of the audience (who doesn’t love a quiz?) overpowers the dialogue making it difficult to hear the actors, particularly as they aren’t using microphones. The same can also be said for the music, which on occasion, overpowers and distracts from the dialogue.

That said, CHIP SHOP CHIPS is a funny and warm-hearted play which will leave you with a full belly and a smile on your face. An innovative and immersive love story worthy of opening Box of Trick’s 10th anniversary year.

4 out of 5 stars

CHIP SHOP CHIPS tours until 23 March 2016.  Visit Box of Tricks for the full tour list and to book tickets.