June 07, 2011 10:18
| Arts and Culture
Last night, courtesy of Anya Reiss’ play The Acid Test and a four strong cast, I was given the opportunity to see the lives of my friends and I over the last few years from an audience seat at The Royal Court Theatre. And my God was it sobering.
The play shows an evening in the life of three flatmates living in London – Ruth, Jessica and Dana. It begins with Dana and Ruth drinking as Ruth needs to be comforted after “the worst day of her life”. Just as they ease into the alcohol, the door slams. It is Jessica arriving home with a 57 year old man in a blazer. But this isn’t just any man – this is Jessica’s father, who has just been kicked out of his house by her mother. After formalities slowly breakdown, they all find themselves in a living room, sharing their individual woes and dilemmas as well as bottle after bottle of alcohol. Here ensues an evening of booze-fueled drama addressing questions of sex, friendship, family, youth and maturity.
The characters are written and cast perfectly – Denis Lawson plays a very convincing father to Jessica. Mild-mannered, awkward and with a vague sense of having given up on everything, he captures the typical essence of aging British man very well indeed. As he flits between easing into the revelry and snapping back to his late-fifties-wisdom, every audience member who has a father understands how he could embarrass Jessica so painfully, without really doing anything at all.
Pheobe Fox is Ruth – the lovable, gullible one who buys into politics, philosophy and music at the drop of a hat. It is Ruth’s descent into drunkenness that is the funniest. As she pontificates on dubstep music, the Green Party and how Andrex puppies may or may not be linked to animal testing, you fall in love with her passion and her lack of any knowledge on which to ground it on. Lydia Wilson makes a steely, understated Jessica. Perhaps the hardest role to tackle, Jessica’s angst-ridden inner dialogue becomes much more apparent than the other characters. She is frequently identified as the outsider glancing in and is often misinterpreted by others as being a killjoy. Vanessa Kirby plays Dana, the narcissistic, self-absorbed, care-free beauty. From her manipulative giggle to her flailing, wide-eyed drunkenness, she gets amateur coquettishness dead-on and it’s hard to keep your eyes off her.
It works in Reiss’ favour that she is just 19. There are a number of details in The Acid Test that are certainly the evidence of spending a great deal of time with middle-class female twenty somethings in London. The way they speak is so naturalistic, you are often found questioning if they’ve gone off script. When asked how someone is recovering from a suicide attempt, Ruth replies: “Yeah. Like….yeah”. “Like”. The curse of my generation. We all know we do it. We all hate that we do it. We just can’t, like, stop.
And it isn’t just their raising inflections, likes and constant swearing that gives it authenticity. As I walked into the space, I felt like I’d been there before. Everything from the generic Audrey Hepburn print on the wall to the cheap, bright Ikea cushions and DVDs strewn on the floor was accurate. It didn’t feel like a set, it felt like a moment of life we’d walked in on – an Unmade Bed.
Half way through the play, I already knew how it was going to end. After a night of drinking, smoking, dancing, saying what needed and didn’t need to be said, breaking rules of time, formality and relationships, the inevitable comes. As the light creeps though the window at dawn, revealing a broken, wine and tear stained, silly mess – there’s only one thing they can do. Have another drink. And start all over again.
That’s what is perfect about The Acid Test – it’s not a snapshot of a night – it’s the snapshot of a thousand nights. It’s not a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf evening where everything comes undone and changes forever. Instead, it shows a period of life when you have a rubbish job, no children, husband or mortgage and all the time and freedom in the world. A time when you have to create your own tragedy and comedy otherwise there’s not that much going on.
The Acid Test is showing in The Jerwood Theatre, upstairs at The Royal Court Theatre
until 11 June. Phone 020 7565 5000 for ticket information.