new play upstairs at the Court is, as always, an intriguing bit of
writing. His plays are always different, there’s always a sense that
something new is being tried. Peaches was unlike Real Classy Affair which was very different from Kosher Harry which has not much to do with Ingredient X.
This is a very exciting thing in any playwright and it’s why I always
look forward to Nick’s plays - even if I’m not completely satisfied by
This one features four fortysomethings spending an evening together half-watching The X Factor
on TV, but mainly reflecting - in some cases increasingly drunkenly -
on the corrosive role that addiction has played in their lives. Frank is
a recovering drug addict; Katie seems to be drawn compulsively to
addictive personalities; Deanne is an alcoholic on the border of
admitting it; Rosanna seems to be addicted to confronting people with
the truth of their lives, as she sees it, like a downmarket Gregers
The formula is, I guess, familiar;
thrown together in a room, a group of friends uncover secrets about each
other and themselves. What sparkles here is the dialogue. Nick Grosso
always does interesting stuff with dialogue: Real Classy Affair
was a somewhat heightened realist dialogue play, with Pinteresque
edges, into which strange rhymes and rhythms would erupt. Here the
dialogue is heavily patterned, and the speed of the interchanges between
people suggests that rhythm more than psychology is the driving force.
There are a couple of formal motifs: in the first half of the play,
whatever the arguments raging between the character, whenever they
mention Katie’s baby, the three women all coo over her, using exactly
the same sentimental formulations. Rosanna, too, has a strange habit of
beginning a stock phrase or epigram but letting it peter out, as if
she’s lost confidence in it, or maybe just forgotten it.
There’s more story to it than I’m making
out. A lot of tension in the first half derives from Frank leaving to
get ice from next door and being gone a while. Rosanna and Deanne tease
Katie with visions of him backsliding into drug abuse. In the second
half, four of the characters make discoveries or reveal secrets:
Deanne’s son, just out of prison, has been arrested; her other son has
been diagnosed with diabetes; Katie reveals that her former partner
cheated on her; Rosanna discovers that her estranged husband has been
videoed fucking a 20-year-old; and Frank discovers that a fellow addict
has died suddenly of a heart attack.
This is where I began to lose confidence
in the play. Partly, it felt that these revelations were a bit bloody
weird - the unluckiest Saturday night in history. It almost felt like
the play was injecting incident into it, to keep momentum, like having
another coffee to keep awake in an all-night writing session. The
interesting tension around Frank’s lengthy disappearance was dissipated
when he turned out not to have slid back into addiction at all. This is
part of the point: addiction is a serious illness and people need to be
actively committed to working to free themselves from it, rather than
trusting fatalistically to character or the inevitable.
And here’s the thing. The play reminded me of Doug Lucie’s Love You Too,
another play by a really interesting, restless, challenging writer; but
like that play this seemed like some personal issues and obsessions had
taken the place of really writing a play conceived as a public
experience. Nick Grosso seems to have become very interested in
addiction - I don’t know whether that’s from personal experience or what
- and the last third of the play emerges as a rather hectoring thesis
about the role it plays in all our lives. I’m sure the point is sound,
but wasn’t sure the play was.
I noted that where the script deviated
most from the performed text was in the last ten minutes where the
ending has been radically cut back. That suggests to me that they found
the play difficult to land. Maybe Nick overwrote trying to find the
ending; maybe the rhythms of the theatre didn’t allow for the gentle
descent that he wanted. I need to read the original ending.
Of course, what I haven’t mentioned is
that the play is fucking funny. Nick Grosso is one of the surest hands
at constructing jokes, at generating enormous comic momentum and there
were lots of laugh-out-loud moments. I had a very good time watching it.
One final quibble: they claimed to be obsessed with X Factor but they barely watched it... okay #nerdalert