Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London SW1
Opened 25 October, 2010
In vino veritas is a dramatic staple. Usually a while after the halfway point of a play, one or more characters will get somewhere from tipsy to blotto and unleash brutal truths or dark secrets about the others and/or themselves. It's a tried, trusted and (as the ads used to say) medically approved tactic. However, it usually helps to have a dramatic situation into which to insert this. Simply getting your characters together and having one of them say, “Let's get high,” then a little later producing a bottle of Jack Daniel's and calling for “Shooters and hits!”, and following that up with, “Somebody ask me something” doesn't really cut the mustard. But this is exactly what writer Brett Neveu and his creation Jana do.

Jana is 19, and has just started going out with thirtysomething Bill. She is the outsider as he and his old high school buddies meet up on their annual summer camping/bikes/intoxication hooley at the National MX meeting at the Red Bud track in Michigan. As the outsider, she is of course the dramatic catalyst. Whoopee. Being a generation younger, she also gets at times to demonstrate a maturity and perspective beyond any of these “middle youth”-ers. Whoopee again. Evening falls, blood toxicity levels rise, and just as inevitably comes the progression of candour, banal pseudo-profundity, games which get out of hand and merge with the periodic bouts of unpleasantness, building to a climax of violence and shocking confrontation. Did I say “whoopee”? Sorry, I meant “ho hum”.

Jo McInnes' pacy production fails to conceal the fact that Neveu simply has nothing to say here. These guys are pathetically trying to hang on to their youth and avoid the pressures of adulthood? There, said in a few seconds; demonstrated comprehensively within five minutes; what's left for the other 65? Answer: more of the same. Oh, and liberal “gritty” expletives. I have no time for the argument that swearing is unnecessary; here, it chimes perfectly and authentically with the vapidity of the characters. But, as war journalist Michael Herr memorably put it, they use “fuck” like a comma, and it just gets tedious. The expletives would be fine if there were anything of substance or interest between them. There isn't.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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