Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh- until 15 April 2017
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Channelling Jabez, the latest A Play, A Pie and A Pint production at the Traverse, is a charmingly inconsequential story that is cleverly staged and strangely attractive. Giles Croft, the artistic director of Nottingham Playhouse, is perhaps best known to Edinburgh audiences as the director of the West End and touring adaptation of The Kite Runner, but here turns performer in a one-man show about his ‘third cousin once removed’, the Scottish endurance swimmer Jabez ‘Jappy’ Wolffe. Wolffe is best known (if at all) for failing to swim the Channel over 20 times in the early 20th century, but he did manage to train several successful female Channel swimmers.
Croft’s musings on Wolffe are aided by what at times threatens to turn into a Powerpoint presentation, and by a variety of props, some more relevant than others. If it is all decidedly trivial, there is an odd fascination to it. Croft is an utterly endearing, slightly diffident stage presence, while director Liz Carruthers shows she knows exactly how to turn the most unpromising of material into a coherent whole, bringing all her experience of 25 Play, Pie and Pint productions to bear.
There are some peculiar diversions during the narrative; Croft’s habit of buying expensive electric guitars he ‘cannot play’, or details about his family, seem irrelevant to the main story. In a sense, however, these sideshows are the making of the production. It becomes very much like many recent one-person shows in that it is Croft’s story as much as Wolffe’s. Furthermore, there is more interest in some of these asides than in a story of gallant sporting failure of a kind we have all heard before.
The stories about Croft’s father make him seem a complex and intriguing figure, and it is a little disappointing that we do not hear more about him. Such personal details elevate an otherwise slight tale into something more interesting and involving.