Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London SW1
Opened 23 May, 2011

It is a most peculiar feeling to be commenting on a writer consolidating their dramatic skills and developing a distinctive voice when the writer in question is not yet out of their teens. Last year Anya Reiss, then aged 18, broke Christopher Hampton’s 1966 record as the youngest ever Royal Court playwright, and won a brace of major Most Promising awards for her examination of just-pre-teen sexuality Spur Of The MomentThe Acid Test builds appealingly on that promise. On this occasion the central clutch of characters are just a little bit older than Reiss: three flatmates in their early twenties. When one arrives home on Friday night with her just-separated father in tow, a long night of booze, dope and personal crises ensues.
Reiss still has moments of uncertainty writing for older characters (she knows that the moment of embarrassing dad-dancing she includes is a cliché and does not overdo it, but she does put it there in the first place), but when she focuses on characters, views and moods rather than moments of middle-aged tone, she scarcely puts a foot wrong. The generational mood itself is excellently achieved when it is closer to home: the banter and the self-dramatisation of the three young women is simply spot on.
It is this self-dramatisation that is the play’s real subject. Relationship break-up, career-sex, job loss and attempted suicide all take place during the 90 minutes of the play, but all offstage, reported and recounted. This is not a failing of the basic dramatic maxim “show, don’t tell”; on the contrary, what Reiss is showing is how the four characters respond, how they cast themselves in their own dramas, how they are constructing their lives from these experiences and how significant those may or may not turn out to be. As with Spur Of The Moment, the climactic confrontation is a little contrived, but Reiss then conscientiously works to move beyond it.
Paul Wills has designed an immersive shared-flat space reached, in the theatre, by passing several identical doors to neighbouring flats. Simon Godwin adroitly directs Vanessa Kirby (as the beautiful but insecure one), Lydia Wilson (as the filially ungrateful one), Phoebe Fox (as the semi-hysterical one) and Denis Lawson (as the old one). And Reiss continues to show the kind of youthful talent that makes even Polly Stenham look superannuated.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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