Review of the play The Acid Test by Anya Reiss, at the Royal Court Theatre, London


Dana, Ruth and Jess down shots to console the heart-broken, to comfort the anxious and just pass the time. Kicked out from the family home Jess’s Dad, Jim, invades the party with just as much recklessness as the girls. As the night passes and vodka bottles are emptied, Friday night in becomes high drama.

acidtestcastThis play, set in the living room of the girls’ flat is surrounded by the small audience on three sides which always poses additional opportunities and problems in equal measure in the staging and acting. The set, designed by Paul Willis, starts at the top of the theatre stairs as the audience troops along a scruffy corridor, complete with a row of doors and told to ‘keep going through the door of number 11’. The living room set is dressed with all sorts of enjoyable little details – including the Harry Potter book and a cheese and chives tube of Pringles… It is a suitable backdrop for one night’s emotional maelstrom – Ruth has a quarrel with her boyfriend; Dana makes a disastrous decision regarding her boss and Jess brings her father back to the flat, where drink and pot lower inhibitions revealing fault lines in each character’s lives. The result is both hilarious and poignant.

Even the excessive swearing works – and I’m no fan of strings of curse words instead of sharp, witty dialogue. But this tendency is examined during the drunken exchanges – along with the rest of their lives. What 19 year old Reiss highlights is how adrift the girls feel at a stage in their lives when they clearly think they should be adult, but don’t know how to achieve that elusive state. Ruth and Dana gravitate towards Jim on two levels; as the only male in the group who responds quite flirtatiously to them, which annoys Jesse who observes that ‘a lot of ball worship is going on, here’. But, just as interestingly, all the girls – Jesse included – crave the comfort and stability of someone more mature and experienced. It seemed to me that Reiss is unpacking the modern trend of generational ghettos, where people across the age divide no longer socialise together. At a stage in their lives where the young women realise they The-Acid-Test-007are now capable of making messes of epic proportions, there didn’t seem to be anyone else to advise them, so once the drink takes hold, they want Jim to step into that role. Unfortunately for them, Jim is not up to the task…

It is a fascinating dynamic, complemented by the superb acting. Managing to produce a credible characterisation in such a small space, yet sustain the necessary complete concentration for 90 minutes without any break is a big ask. All the actors ably rose to the challenges posed by Reiss in this taut, funny four-hander. Vanessa Kirby, the beautiful and confused Dana, manages to bring out the inherent humour of the character, without allowing the comedy to swamp the pathos of her dilemma. Phoebe Fox gives a strong performance as Ruth, flailing around in the soap opera version of her life that she believes gives it credibility – but for my money, the standout actress is Lydia Wilson’s depiction of Jesse. The part requires a great deal of control and focus, particularly in the early stages of the play, and Lydia manages to display the embarrassment and increasing discomfort connected with her father’s presence – along with the pain of their dysfunctional relationship. Dennis Lawson revels in the role of a Peter Pan figure, more than happy to bask in the admiration of the younger women, but unable to respond with anything meaningful to his own daughter’s passionate demands for something deeper. His volte face at the end of the play is entirely plausible.

All in all, The Acid Test provided me with an excellent afternoon at the theatre and if you can get hold of a ticket before the last night on 11th June, I recommend you do so, this little gem is worth watching.

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