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The Acid Test

"Friday night, just been dumped, at home, fucking pissed." That's the situation facing 21-year-old Ruth (Phoebe Fox) and her flatmates. Alcohol-fuelled dramas about men behaving badly are too numerous to count. It's much rarer to find the female equivalent, which is one reason to applaud "The Acid Test." Another is to welcome Anya Reiss's follow-up to her outstanding 2010 debut "Spur Of The Moment." This less ambitious play lacks a driving undercurrent but her eye for behavioral observation and ear for zesty dialogue are intact.

'The Acid Test'

“Friday night, just been dumped, at home, fucking pissed.” That’s the situation facing 21-year-old Ruth (Phoebe Fox) and her flatmates. Alcohol-fuelled dramas about men behaving badly are too numerous to count. It’s much rarer to find the female equivalent, which is one reason to applaud “The Acid Test.” Another is to welcome Anya Reiss’s follow-up to her outstanding 2010 debut “Spur Of The Moment.” This less ambitious play lacks a driving undercurrent but her eye for behavioral observation and ear for zesty dialogue are intact.

Reiss’s skilled balance of sympathies is once again apparent in her detailing of a night of drunkenness. Likewise her exuberant use of humor.

Ruth is drowning her sorrows not just due to being dumped but because her boyfriend committed this heinous crime while they were on the bus. When not doling out non-stop, consolatory vodka, beautiful Dana (Vanessa Kirby) is considering her own waywardness with men. Jess (Lydia Wilson), meanwhile, is staunchly single.

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The surprising catalyst for outpourings of a more emotional kind is the arrival of Jess’s father Jim (Denis Lawson) who has been ignominiously chucked out of the family home by his wife who has taken up with the workman Jim hired to fix the roof.

The presence of an increasingly drunk man in their midst gradually exposes the rift in the relationship between father and daughter — she’s scathing but secretly needy, he’s swaggering but unable to take responsibility. More importantly, it threatens to add danger as the other young women flirt with him.

Reiss’s failure to deliver on that promise signals the play’s most serious shortcoming. The dramatic bonus of Jim’s presence turns out to be, as with most of the play, purely conversational. The tension between action and its resolution is missing.

To keep this long night’s journey on the move, Reiss creates painful crises with various unseen men. But since they happen off-stage, too much relies upon theatrically unsatisfying reported events.

Faced with this lack of onstage development, director Simon Godwin goes for total immersion, wrapping the audience around three sides of Paul Wills’s ideally naturalistic set that roots the detailed work of the cast.

Wilson contrasts her fiercely disaffected performance at this address in “The Heretic” with a notably distilled turn as angrily defensive Jess whose aggravation with Lawson’s amusingly deluded father rings true. And newcomer Fox impressively adds immediacy, lightning-speed timing and sweet ridiculousness to Ruth’s mood swings.

Kirby is touching as confident Dana, who finds herself further out of her depth than she believes herself to be. That position applies to all the characters in what amounts to a post-teenage antidote to “Sex In The City.” Reiss’s play may only tread water in career terms, but her idiosyncratic gift for nailing her characters’ tussles between self-preservation and self-exposure is valuable.

The Acid Test

Royal Court Upstairs, London; 85 seats; £20, $32.50 top

  • Production: A Royal Court Theater presentation of a play in one act by Anya Reiss. Directed by Simon Godwin.
  • Crew: Sets and costumes, Paul Wills; lighting, Malcolm Rippeth; sound, Nick Manning; production stage manager, Tariq Rifaat. Reviewed, May 21, 2011, opened May 23. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.
  • Cast: Dana - Vanessa Kirby<br/> Ruth - Phoebe Fox<br/> Jess - Lydia Wilson<br/> Jim - Denis Lawson
  • Music By: