Roaring (Chapel Off Chapel) – theatre review

Sex, crime and bad behaviour characterise the ’60s dark period drama romance Roaring, the debut work for writer and director Staz Barres. Vera (Jackie von Lierop) desperately wants to make it in show business. She seeks fame. As it is, she works in a dead-end job as a waitress, alongside her friend Jane (Daisy Paxton-White). The pair is treated shamefully by the male customers. Vera can’t wait to get out of there and yet try as she does repeatedly to audition for roles, each time she is knocked back.

Photos by Nikhil Sunil and Ronin Green

Then, one day, as fate would have it, she meets casino owner and general tough guy Johnny (Ronin Green) and makes her mark. Prone to aggression and violence, he has a crew working for him. That includes inveterate gambler Ronnie (Luke Holland), Cane (Josh Hosie) – who auditions showgirls – and David (Brianna Nam). Johnny ensures Vera tries out with Cane for the casino show, but the latter takes advantage of the situation, as Johnny’s interest in Vera grows.

At the same time, Johnny finds himself in more than a spot of bother, due to his shady practices. He is used to strongarming others to get his way, but then he goes too far and the police are on his tail. Although Jane warned Vera that she was playing with fire, Vera fell for the man who she wanted Johnny to be, not the man he really is.

Roaring has the equivalent of a film noir feel to it. I appreciated the tension and humour that Barres built into her script. Further, misogyny is rife throughout. It looks and sounds ugly, just as it is meant to. I like the way Barres writes. With just a few props – little more than some chairs and tables – Barres has achieved much. The frequent scene changes, dictated by the prose (during which all turns to black), could have been jarring. Instead, they are handled expeditiously.

At times, starting with the opening scene, the acting feels over the top … too pushed. Exaggeration seems to be the name of the game here. A little less character stereotyping and greater naturalism would have benefited the production. Still, by and large, the performers do a decent job with the material in front of them.

As the centrepiece, Jackie van Lierop comes into her own and even excels as the plot develops. Ronin Green’s largely low-key portrayal of Johnny the hood, while still showing menace when it suits the character, hits the mark. Luke Holland is good at groveling, as he is called on to do as punter Ronnie, while Josh Hosie makes much of exploiting Cane’s domineering personality. Daisy Paxton-White is sympathetic as Vera’s friend, Jane.

With a running time of 75 minutes, Roaring is engaging and entertaining, a commendable first up effort for Barres, whose imagination could take her far. It is playing at Chapel Off Chapel until 7th October, 2023.

Alex First

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