It may not be around for much longer, but Cardiff’s famous Vulcan pub will rarely have seen anything like Barfliesin its long history.
Based on three short stories by Charles Bukowski, cult chronicler of America’s seedy underbelly, it follows alcoholic womaniser Henry Chinaski as he narrates his drunken life from a barstool.
Played by Edinburgh-born Keith Fleming, 39, five of Henry’s conquests are the work of 25-year-old Charlene Boyd and despite nearing the end of a tough six-week tour which took in pubs in bars across Scotland before they came to Cardiff, the pair are still having a ball.
“It’s so much fun and it’s great to be in the bars," said Charlene. "There’s always quite a change in terms of height and space and where you put your props.”
Produced by the Grid Iron company, a renowned Edinburgh group specialising in site-specific theatre, bringing the drunken antics of Barflies’ lead characters to the Vulcan’s cosy front room is tough.
But Charlene, from Cumbernauld outside Glasgow, and Keith, experienced in this kind of theatre, have risen to the challenge, even when it comes to walking along the bar.
“In most of the other bars we have had head clearance!" said Keith. "But the immediacy and the proximity to the audience is exciting.”
It’s fair to say the 6pm Wednesday night crowd in the Welsh capital don’t always know what to make of the vivid sex scenes, brawls, and constant, messy boozing in full spittle-flecked view.
The early evening start isn’t ideal, with the crowd less well lubricated than they might be, but then it’s not easy for some when they are confronted by animal organs for props without a stiff drink in hand.
But for every gasp from the 30-strong audience packed in on stools, chairs and tables, there’s a laugh for the pin sharp dialogue and menacing wit of Henry’s narrating monologues.
It’s easy to be swept along by the sheer intensity of the two leading performances, particularly Charlene’s brilliant effort at five different women from wild Scot Vicki to the considered Margy.
“You are always finding things out and learning and discovering things about the parts," said Charlene.
“I’m happy enough that I know the five women and I’m portraying what is in the writing and the clear differences between the characters.”
The piece takes Bukowski’s boozy vision and puts it into a Scottish vernacular which fits it perfectly. Keith has plenty of respect for the writer himself.
“He wrote about what he saw, what he knew and his experiences," he said. "He wrote about skid row and the bums and that kind of lifestyle and nobody had really captured that.”
Charlene and Keith have had plenty of fun picking out the real-life Bukowski characters in the bars they’ve performed in, and Cardiff hasn’t disappointed with a dead-ringer for Henry spotted in the Cottage pub.
Unfortunately this raucous, hilarious and shocking play, put on courtesy of the Sherman Theatre, is sold out for it's final two nights this evening and Friday. But the Cardiffian thoroughly recommends getting down to the Vulcan and raising a glass to Henry Chinaski while you still can.