Theatre Review: The Devil and the Shopkeeper at Theatre Shop, Clevedon
This review was first written for The Public Reviews
There’s something thrilling transforming the seaside town of Clevedon this month, with the inaugural season of Theatre Shop, an empty retail unit on a pleasant square, reborn as a venue for professional live performance.
Bristol-based Living Spit is one of the creative forces behind this reinvention, as well as a major player in the theatre’s programming. Not only are they involved in presenting Living Quiz, a theatrical-style pub quiz, and their show One Man and his Cow, they also perform in Parts 1 and 2 of their retail-themed caper The Devil & The Shopkeeper.
Told with Living Spit’s trademark combination of rhyming couplets, silly songs and live music, with a cardboard cash register teetering on a counter of empty fruit crates, The Devil & TheShopkeeper recounts the woes of independent store-owning Jeremiah Brown to a packed and expectant family audience.
Jeremiah’s small shop was once the thriving hub of the community, catering to all possible tastes and requirements. Who knows when you might need a hat with a light on it? But recently, he’s been losing out to the new superstores moving into town and now he hasn’t made a sale in weeks. Cue the entry of a mysterious stranger offering to bring hordes of customers flocking back to his door. But his contract comes at very high price and may not be quite the bargain that Jeremiah was expecting.
Howard Coggins and Stu Mcloughlin unfold their tale with energy and freshness – despite this being their third show of the day, there’s no sign of flagging. Words are cleverly crafted and there’s great musical agility on display – from double bass to ukulele. Coggins is endearing as the put-upon shopkeeper and Mcloughlin suitably menacing – in true pantomime-villain style – as the visiting devil. With little in the way of lighting and special effects – a solitary red light and the odd puff of dry ice – in the daylight of the intimate shop surroundings, they make very effective use of space; strutting out of the shop door to the bemusement of passers by, who also peer in through uncurtained windows from time to time to see what all the fun’s about.
Part 1 wraps up with a very silly and satisfying conclusion and Part 2 continues Jeremiah’s story as the devil – having exposed a hitherto unsuspected weakness – returns with another dastardly plan.
This is a tautly-written, lively and fun-filled sixty minutes of family entertainment. Its enthusiastic reception suggests that, in bringing the best of Bristol to a wider north Somerset audience, Theatre Shop is providing a hugely diverting distraction from the joys – or otherwise – of real-life shopping.