Ever wanted to share a pint with a God?
Meet John Barleycorn: drinker, party animal, ancient god. John wakes after thousands of years asleep beneath the soil to find a grey and lifeless city filled with grey and lifeless people. He thinks it’s time they remember what it’s like to have a little fun.
The Bread & The Beer is a one-man epic tale where ancient myths collide with the modern world, written and performed by London actor Tristan Bernays.
Having gained some fantastic reviews at last years’ Edinburgh Festival Tristan now takes the play on the road, stopping at The Lowry Salford for one night only on 21st June.
Manchester’s Finest caught up with him before he set off on his travels to find out what we can expect.
MF: Now this is a one man show-what would you say are the main challenges you have found with undertaking it?
TB: The main one for me is the physical aspect. It’ s an incredibly physical show. I’ve always liked the idea that if the performers not sweating they’re not working. I quite like to see shows where it is like watching a boxing match- you see people physically putting 100% into it and coming out of it battered an bruised and like they’ve done 100 rounds. My piece follows that ethos. I have to be very strict with myself whilst I’m on tour because of that so I’m extremely dry for the whole run which kind of goes against the whole John Barleycorn hedonism of drinking and partying.
MF: The strap line for the production is ‘Drinker. Party Animal. Ancient God.’ That’s a lot to live up to…
TB: Yes a lot to live up to! I started out wanting to do a poem about London but something that hadn’t been done before. I thought of doing an epic poem as it’s a really beautiful form and nobody really does it any more, it’s not really in fashion. I wanted to have a go and came across a way to tackle it by looking at all these British myths and legends and then I came across the God of Beer (and partying and wildness). It just clicked. Nowadays we live in this very grey ‘9 to 5 world’ and seem to have forgotten this wild side of ourselves and the fact we didn’t always live in cities we lived in the wilderness – so part of the piece is about that.
MF: So John Barleycorn wakes up, he’s an Ancient God and he’s thrown into our modern world, what does he make of it?
TB: He doesn’t like it, not one bit. He sees this dull city and even when he witnesses people go drinking he thinks it’s all rather tame. So what he decided to do is show people how to really party and, being the God of Beer – his blood is beer so he starts feeding them this ‘blood beer’ which sends them crazy! He’s the kind of character who isn’t going to let something as big and ugly as the modern day England dampen his mood.
MF: The play is written in iambic pentameter (a rhythm which consists of a line of 10 syllables that is accented on every second beat) – how have the audiences reacted to that, as it’s not the norm to what they are used to hearing?
TB: Considering the show is 50 minutes long and told in iambic pentameter in epic poem format people have really enjoyed it. It takes them about 2 to 4 minutes to get into the rhythm as they work their way through the language. Once it’s going, and it goes at a million miles an hour, you don’t notice it. People genuinely have struggled with it at all. It’s a very natural rhythm to English so people find their ways into it quite quickly and it’s quite fun to show people not to be scared by it-its no different to rock n roll and jazz rhythms. People have been surprised and some haven’t noticed and I guess that’s what I want to achieve. For me the most important thing is storytelling, it doesn’t matter what form you do it as long as you have a cracking story.
MF: You wrote the play. Was it difficult to start writing in iambic pentameter?
TB: There’s a great Robert Frost quote “Writing poetry without a metre is like playing tennis without a net” and when you are writing iambic pentameter you have to hit a certain beat so you often come up with solutions you would have never expected which is lovely. Although I have to confess, I did end up actually speaking thinking and dreaming in iambic pentameter! It took me three months to write and it all just spurted out on the page.
MF: We are very fortunate to have you come to The Lowry Salford as you only have a few stops on your tour…is there a plan to take the play out further?
TB: If I could I’d go everywhere with this. This is the first time that I, as a solo artist and writer have taken something on tour and doing my own thing. We got great reviews at Edinburgh so we are hoping off the back of this and the Arts Council funding which we were incredibility lucky to get to get, we may be doing a few more dates in October.
The Bread & The Beer
21st June, 8pm