The Acid Test

Published May 24, 2011

A trip to the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs is always a mini voyage of discovery; audiences never know how the space will be realigned for the latest production.

But I have never reached the auditorium’s entrance only to then amble through the corridor of a block of flats, through an entrance hallway – complete with hung up jackets and cork notice board – into a post-student lounge before. If I’m honest, I worried I’d taken a wrong turning before noticing the seats around the outside of this Paul Wills-designed bachelorette pad.

The fairy-light-strewn, feather boa-ed room is the home of three female friends in their early 20s, just out of university and striking out on their own; Phoebe Fox’s endearingly naïve Ruth, Vanessa Kirby’s cool, stylish Dana and Lydia Wilson’s awkward, cutting Jessica. When Ruth splits up with her pseudo-philosophical boyfriend Twix, the girls take the only sensible course of action, cracking open the spirits, before Jessica’s father Jim (Denis Lawson) arrives, following an argument with his wife.

Alcohol fuels the emotions, loosening tongues and easing the action forward as the girls share their problems with this new father-figure, all except Jessica, whose problem is her father.

I imagine that at least one critic will be preparing to leap atop his high horse with panache to complain about the linguistic content of The Acid Test. In truth, the high swearing count only goes to prove that award-winning young playwright Anya Reiss has an ear for realistic, compelling, amusing dialogue. This is precisely the smattering of filth I expect to hear in the conversation of three 20-something post-university girls before their worlds implode, let alone when disaster strikes.

The characters, too, offer an authentic peek at a time and generation; that period after spending years cocooned in full time education when you finally have to learn to mature, make your own decisions and stand on your own two feet while still feeling like the teenager who should be out drinking every night. Sex, parent/child relationships, the idea of never really maturing, the generation gap and contemporary concerns are all given a going over in a piece that also includes Lawson displaying some impressive Dad dancing, a dubstep version of Mr Postman and a discussion on the hotness of red heads. Comedy flourishes early on, but he evening turns dark very swiftly.

Reiss won awards for her debut play Spur Of The Moment. Her second really is The Acid Test. With Reiss among the leading group of young contemporary playwrights, the future looks rosy.

MA

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