Until March 8
Sam Ford’s new solo promenade show is brimful of charm. This is utilitarian theatre, killing two birds with one stone: it offers visitors to Dublin a historical tour around Bewley’s Grafton Street premises; and it is also a drama about World War II.
Ford, kitted out in a Bewley’s uniform, plays Austrian head waiter Josef Kellner. It is 1941, war is raging, and he has come to Dublin as a refugee. Josef is searching the premises for his fellow worker and protégée Balasz, a young Hungarian man who was a comrade of Josef’s younger brother Hans, who died fighting the Nazis.
Josef has arranged for the young man’s fiancée Anna to come to Ireland, but Balasz is nowhere to be found. With energetic direction by John King, the show takes us up and down stairs, shows off the Harry Clarke stained glass windows, a few antique coffee grinding machines and visits the bakery in the cellar. The Bewley’s building is full of interesting nooks and crannies, including the remains of Whyte’s Academy that predated the café: a school with a dazzling alumni list including Robert Emmet and Richard Brinsley Sheridan.
Ford is an engaging performer who inhabits his fussy Austrian persona with committed glee. He happily gives an audience member a lesson in how to carry a tray. He leads the audience in contemplating the lives of customers we look down on from the atrium. We take a look out a window at one point and are invited to consider the competition — there is a Starbucks at the end of the lane. We also take a twirl outside, including to the portico of Clarendon Street church.
The dramatic engine of the show is the search for the missing Balasz and the story’s European war and refugee element has obvious contemporary resonance.
Ford is here serving two masters, the tour-guide god and the theatre god, and he steers a nimble course between them. Balasz has created a new Hungarian cake for the café, which we all get to taste. And then we finally discover what has happened to the missing man. There is a good deal of fun in this engaging show that neatly invites the past into the present.