Roller Diner at Soho Theatre
Roller Diner is the “deep fried American Dream” set in the murky backwaters of Birmingham; it’s a tale of tentative optimism, offset by the greasy reality of failed plans and lost hope. The tragicomedy follows the unfortunate Eddie Costello and his staff of waiters and kitchen boy, whose lives are turned upside down one day by the arrival of “super duper waitress” Marika and her strange accent. As we delve into the mystery of her background and her scheme for the Diner, it becomes apparent all may not be as it seems.
Teeming with blackmail, sexual tension and Brummie-accented songs, Roller Diner pokes fun at the “us and them” attitude brought out by Brexit, and challenges the way we perceive foreigners. This timely professional debut from Stephen Jackson, winner of the Verity Bargate Award, is deftly directed by Soho Theatre’s Steve Marmion, as the musical navigates the complicated issues of immigration and sex work without reducing its characters to one-dimensional victims or martyrs. Viewers will love and hate every character at some point, and it’s the emotional realism that ultimately grounds this wacky show, and pushes the drama forward.
The costuming is competently quirky, with clever visual puns that add to the physicality of the production and allow the set design by Anthony Lamble to truly shine. It’s an enjoyably stylised and versatile foray into 50s diners, complemented by the beautifully atmospheric lighting; rich blues and reds saturate the room, filtering through the fine smoke and creating an Americanised filter that feels progressively malicious as the story develops.
The cast are incredibly strong, bringing a lovably diverse uniqueness to the play. It’s easy to believe their characters are real people, and their comedy is flawlessly timed. Rina Fatania’s Jean steals the show, however, with a drily perceptive humour and unapologetic sass that acts as a foil to the rollicking madness.
Naughty, dirty but delicious, Roller Diner has an endearingly lovable quality that belies its savagery, and marks it as a sharp-tongued classic like Rocky Horror. It’s easy to imagine it on Broadway or the silver screen, and though the tunes lack the same memorability, the production’s cultural relevance and universal search for a place to call home will resonate deeply with all.
Photos: Helen Maybanks
Roller Diner is at Soho Theatre from 26th May until 24th June 2017, for further information or to book visit here.