wed 13/11/2019

The Acid Test, Royal Court Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

The Acid Test, Royal Court Theatre

The Acid Test, Royal Court Theatre

New play by the precocious Anya Reiss is as sharp and heady as a vodka cocktail

Drink and a bad hair day: Phoebe Fox in ‘The Acid Test’Manuel Harlan

Anya Reiss must be the most precocious playwright in London. Her 2010 debut, Spur of the Moment, written while she was just 17 and still studying for her A levels, won two Most Promising Playwright awards, from the London Evening Standard and the Critics’ Circle. Now her follow-up, The Acid Test, which opened last night at the Royal Court in this new-writing flagship’s upstairs studio, prompts me to ask whether she was just a one-hit wonder - and can she avoid the second-album syndrome?

Three young women, barely out of their teens, share a messy London flat. Dana, Ruth and Jessica are nice middle-class girls who have had a privileged life and private schooling. Now independent, they face the pressing challenges of grown-up life: Ruth has just had a bust up with her boyfriend, Dana plans to sleep with a man to get a job and Jessica brings her fiftysomething dad, Jim, back to stay at the flat - he’s just been thrown out by his wife. Clearly, all this calls for a drink, or 10.

Soon, as the vodka flows and the bottles start to empty, tensions arise between the three flatmates, and between Jim and his daughter. When Ruth and Dana quiz Jim about Jessica’s lack of a boyfriend the embarrassment levels become cheek-reddeningly high. Awkwardness lounges on the sofa in company with silly stories, only to be interrupted by sudden moments of high drama - a rush of hormones, helped by alcohol, overcomes all sense. But the most excruciating moments occur between Jessica and her bumbling dad.

acid2Reiss’s forte, as amply demonstrated by her first play, is acute observation and clear perception of psychological interaction. Her easy way with convincing dialogue is especially impressive when she charts the cringeworthy exchanges between the generations. By the time the drugs come out, and the bottles empty, you just know that the evening will result in a bust-up between dad and daughter, but some of the bitchiness between the flatmates is so acerbic that it almost takes your breath away.

The main theme is maturity. Reiss asks: when do people grow up? And she shows how both adults and youngsters use their own weaknesses as an excuse to avoid responsibility. Her play is also a miniature portrait of a group of middle-class girls who have a variety of attitudes to sex, work and honesty. They are a bit lost, but then so is Jim. For all of them, suggests the playwright, real life is elsewhere.

Although I am not convinced that Reiss has found her own voice yet, and the structure of her play is ploddingly linear, she has plenty of empathy with all her characters, and not just with the girls. Her dialogues are bright, humorous and occasionally barbed with sharp insults. And she is one of a new generation of female playwrights who are taking the temperature of the times. At one brief moment, her message - that youth has to guide age - comes across as electric.

This entertaining and restrained production by Simon Godwin (on Paul Wills's realistic set) sports a good cast. Phoebe Fox is great as the emotionally volatile Ruth while Vanessa Kirby plays the shallow airhead Dana, a young woman constantly learning and relearning the same lesson. I was less sure about Lydia Wilson’s Jessica, and felt that her part was slightly underwritten. But Denis Lawson is excellent as an adult who is always, whether subtly or awkwardly, out of his depth (pictured above right with Fox and Kirby). If Spur of the Moment showed a storm in a domestic tea cup, The Acid Test sees some of that crockery getting chipped. What I’d really like to see is Reiss smashing up the whole kitchen.

Reiss's easy way with dialogue is especially impressive when she charts the cringeworthy exchanges between the generations

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature

★★★★★

A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway

 

Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.

 

★★★★★

This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman

 

Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.

 

Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.