wed 19/09/2018

Wet House, Soho Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Wet House, Soho Theatre

Wet House, Soho Theatre

The desperate fate of addicts and outcasts is given bracingly humorous treatment

One more for the road: Andy (Riley Jones) minds Spencer (Simon Roberts) and Dinger (Joe Caffrey)

When gifting the unheard a voice, the temptation is often to make it a solemn one. Thankfully, Paddy Campbell has, for the most part, sidestepped puritanical preaching in his debut play based on experiences working at a ‘wet house’, a homeless hostel where incurable alcoholics can drink in a secure environment. Though tonally uneven, at its best Campbell’s piece delivers unpalatable truths with a bitingly funny sweetener.

Wet House, Soho TheatreWet House, developed with Newcastle’s Live Theatre, introduces naïve new recruit Andy (Riley Jones, pictured right with Chris Connel) to the bleak environs of Crabtree House. The culture clash between this herbal tea-drinking Art History graduate and bullying staff member Mike (Connel), a fiercely cynical ex-squaddie with a penchant for rough justice, is no less enjoyable for its predictability, thanks mainly to Campbell’s strikingly authentic dialogue. Rounding off the trio is Helen (Jackie Lye), whose more temperate approach is undermined by the suggestion that she views the residents as substitute children.

Credit must go to Gary McCann for a set that so grimly evokes the underfunded institution, with its beige walls, flickering CCTV screens and lingering scent of stale bleach. Utterly desolate, and yet a haven for those failed by other services, rejected by their families and forgotten by society. Campbell astutely analyses the cracks in the bureaucratic system, dwindling motivation on the part of underappreciated carers, and fatal absence of community support – timely given this week’s raging health service debates.

Residents Dinger (Joe Caffrey), Kerry (Eva Quinn) and Spencer (Simon Roberts, pictured below) all make some effort towards rehabilitation, although the very notion is a continued source of pitch-black comedy. Caffrey is particularly effective as the veteran alcoholic: a red-faced mass of tremors who’s lost his wife and children, and yet whose wry, candid disclosures render him strangely endearing. Quinn’s pregnant boozer tends towards the broad, but Roberts, as the taciturn convicted paedophile caught in a cycle of abuse, is a heartrendingly wretched figure.

Wet House, Soho TheatreWet House is less convincing when overtaken by sensationalist plotlines, which, in adding a dash of soapy sex and violence, detract from the work’s grounded naturalism. Campbell also gets mired in cliché when paralleling residents’ and carers’ tendency towards addiction and self-destruction, particularly Andy’s absurdly swift descent into ruin. Nevertheless, Jones sells the root emotion of his disillusionment, just as chilling Connel and compassionate Lye salvage some of the melodramatic elements.

Max Roberts’ production offers fluid transitions and notably pertinent music cues, but sags in a repetitive second half; Wet House is arguably half an hour too long. Yet the glimpse into a part of our world consigned to oblivion is a sharply entertaining call to arms. Whether support comes through institutions like wet houses – and Campbell offers a frank assessment of their weaknesses, as well as their strengths – or through other models, the necessity for conscious collective responsibility cannot be denied.

The glimpse into a part of our world consigned to oblivion is a sharply entertaining call to arms

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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