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Brutally raw but Choke never loses its grip

Choke, Shop Front Theatre, Coventry, until February 17 (Eves & matinee perfs)

Outside the Shop Front Theatre on a bleak Tuesday night Coventry is at its most cold, brutal and unforgiving.

Inside, that just about summed up the welcome for Rob as he battered the door of his estranged old friend Stu after a 12- hour hitchhike from Mevagissey to “somewhere facing Norway.”

The unwanted caller is clutching his stomach in apparent agony begging his one-time friend, who had harboured ambitions to be a surgeon, to take up his scalpel and cut out the disease.

A surreal if intriguing metaphor perhaps for a plea to rid him of the guilt that has wracked his soul since a betrayal 14 years previously.

What ensues in the following 80 minutes is a ferocious duel aimed at stripping bare the other man’s faux ideology and brutally dissecting his integrity.

It’s a sustained full-on, balls-out performance by Graeme Rose (Rob) Matthew Wait (Stu) Almost literally so as Rob spends half the performance in just his underpants.

Choke is not a play to send you skipping out the door, whistling a happy tune.

It is the latest in a series of plays commissioned by Theatre Absolute which pose the question Are We Where we are?

For Rob, a once-successful but exploitative investigative reporter-writer and Stu, who heads a pharmaceutical conglomerate, both face stark and unpalatable truths about what they thought they were, and who they are now.

All of which could make Choke a gripping bust-up as a spectacle but one that through intent will leave the audience questioning quite what the targets are, apart from the men’s egos.

But that would be to ignore the skill with which writer Chris O’Connell has crafted his story. With each venomous barb comes an insight into lives that hook your curiosity and reel you in.

Where they met, the inference that they were once more than friends, the betrayal that led to Stu losing his wife and family amid universal condemnation, his salvation in Buddhism and Rob’s descent into a cynical itinerant, dressed in coats he probably stole on his wanderings.

It’s a backstory seamlessly woven that binds and entertains, leaving you to ponder the meaning of life on the way back to the car. Hoping among other things that the battery hasn’t given out.

PICTURE by Andrew Moore of Graeme Rose (left) and Matthew Waite

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