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 Moment
. The 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
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.
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.
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