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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Acid Test

Well aren't I the lucky one? Surrounded by two gorgeous barely clothed drunk women . . . and my daughter. — Jim
Denis Lawson as Jim and Lydia Wilson as Jessica (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Anya Reiss won most of the newcomer playwright awards for her play Spur of the Moment in 2010 but in her latest play The Acid Test there is undoubtedly a more mature writer at work. This play is about the generation divide from a different angle where the badly behaved may be the older generation.

Three twenty-somethings share a flat in London and when one of them offers to put up her father for the night, there are different group dynamics at work. Jim (Denis Lawson) has been ejected from the family home pending a marital split. The two flatmates, who are each suffering from a crisis in their haphazard relationships, decide to get drunk and Jim joins them in chucking back the shots of alcohol. Jim's daughter Jessica (Lydia Wilson) looks on with increasing despair at her father's behaviour and she becomes the parent figure admonishing her own father who is staunchly defended by her drunkenly indulgent flatmates.

The group repartee in The Acid Test is satisfyingly crafted as Jim joins in the party with young women, the same age as his daughter, enjoying their flattery and attention. Anya Reiss has a very good ear for natural dialogue but the characters that are exposed are leading essentially shallow and random lives as they lurch from one dysfunctional relationship to another. Dana (Vanessa Kirby) makes the mistake of sleeping with her boss and Ruth (Phoebe Fox) has just split from her depressive, suicidal boyfriend; both situations the addition of alcohol can only make worse.

Denis Lawson's believable performance is the glue which holds the play together as he enjoys the social company of the two flat mates but is unable to talk with his own daughter without both of them sniping at the other in an uncomfortable to watch scene. As he calls his daughter by his wife's name, we realise that Jessica is fielding his anger at the collapse of his marriage. As Jessica, Lydia Wilson gives a very good, unshowy performance conveying the awkwardness felt by Jim's daughter. We feel her embarrassment at her father's behaviour with her friends as he enjoys the novelty of their attention. Vanessa Kirby and Phoebe Fox have emotional roller coaster roles which are by turns comic and tragic which they fall into, alcohol releasing their inhibitions and fuelling much of the comedy.

Paul Will's communal living room set in the girls' flat is stuffed with shambolic detail and discarded clothing and underwear. Simon Godwin directs assuredly. The ending is a tad glib making the drunken night seem like an isolated bleep on a graph but the dialogue is funny and The Acid Test is very watchable if not consequential.

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The Acid Test
Written by Anya Reiss
Directed by Simon Godwin

With: Denis Lawson, Lydia Wilson, Vanessa Kirby, Phoebe Fox
Designed by Paul Wills
Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth
Sound: Nick Manning
Running time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 11th June 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 23rd May 2011 performance at The Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square London SW1 W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)

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