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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Acid Test
Royal Court Theatre Summer 2011

Let’s begin with the strengths of Anya Reiss’s new comedy-drama. 

She creates believable characters, even when they’re built on stereotypes, and she has an excellent ear for how young women interact and how they talk, even the fact that they can challenge David Mamet in the frequency with which they employ the ubiquitous all-purpose four-letter obscenity.

And so every minute of the play, even when it approaches the most contrived, rings true. But the setting and vehicle she has chosen proves a bit of a straitjacket. 

As the play opens, a pair of twentyish flatmates settle in for a night of drink-fuelled bemoaning of their love lives. They’re soon joined by a third flatmate and her father, who’s been thrown out by his wife, and the drinking and communal moaning continue. 

Perhaps you see the problem. From that premise you might not be able to predict absolutely everything that happens in the play, but there will be nothing to surprise you. 

The territory has been well and fully explored before – just about every sitcom in the history of television has eventually devoted an episode to it – and while Reiss reinvents the wheel skillfully, she offers little that’s new to the template.

The quartet drink, moan, listen to music, cheer up, get sad again, drink some more, smoke cigarettes and joints, and say and do some dumb things. They take turns speaking drunken nonsense that the others think deep, coming a little too close to insulting each other but backing off and being forgiven, and confessing some deep insecurity or feeling of failure and being hugged and comforted. 

The nearest thing to a surprise is the revelation that father and daughter harbour some real bitterness toward each other, and say things they might even remember and have to deal with in the morning.

This is all very smoothly presented, with flashes of wit and touching character insight, and you will never be bored or uninterested, though you may be haunted by a sense of déjà vu. 

Reiss nicely delineates the three women – one too prone to fall in love, one too prone to fall in bed, and one too emotionally closed to have any romantic or sexual ife – and director Simon Godwin has cleverly cast actresses of distinct physical types. 

The three – Vanessa Kirby, Phoebe Fox and Lydia Wilson – are all fine, but are overshadowed by the easy grace of Denis Lawson as the father.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   The Acid Test - Royal Court 2011

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