City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Bread and the Beer Review

By Justine Blundell - Posted on 17 August 2013

Bread and the Beer
Show details
Running time: 
Tristan Bernays (writer), Sophie Larsmon (director), Luke Emery (producer), Tim Quillen-Wright (stage design), Duncan McLean (video design), Jo Walker (sound design), PR (Mobius PR), Rebecca Brown (stage manager), Holly Hayman (production assistant)
Tristan Bernays

Beer barrels, bottles and empty crates, dirty wooden frames encasing blackened wallpaper, a bar stool and a snooker cue are cluttered haphazardly on the tiny stage, setting the scene for the very theatrical performance, The Bread and the Beer.

Written and performed by Tristan Bernays, this rather startling piece takes the idea of John Barleycorn, from the British folksong, as its starting point and weaves a tale that places old myths and traditions, incongruously and unsettlingly, within a modern setting.

In the song, John is the personification of the barley crop and the alcohol it transforms into. In his epic poem, Bernays imagines him emerging from the earth after a thousand years of sleep to find a strange, grey and concrete world. He doesn’t understand where the forest has gone, where meat might come from if there is nowhere to hunt. He notes a lone tree in a square of earth and is appalled.

He follows the ‘worker bees’ pouring out of the office and buzzing into a trendy bar. He orchestrates an orgy of feasting, on bread and beer, but the beer is of his blood and the bread of his body. The city of London is torn apart as the yuppies dance in the beer that is now spewing from smashed fire hydrants and bankers loot banks to kick the money around like leaves.

The once dry and lifeless city and its people spring to life: roots and shoots, grasses and daisies swallow the concrete and steel but this new hunger for life is wild, unconstrained and disturbing.

This was powerful in every sense. Written in verse and using the language of old English, it has a timeless and enduring quality to it. It feels already like a classic, something that should be on the curriculum and in the theatres, often.

There is no doubt about the talents of Bernays, as both a writer and performer, but this furiously energetic performance was at times uncomfortably overpowering in such an intimate space. I found myself physically leaning back to gain some distance when, with such presence and charisma, he could have done a lot less and really drawn me in. Extremely promising but out of scale.

Show times

Runs until 25 Aug, 2.30pm


16-18, 23-25 £10 (£9)

19-22, £9 (£8)