Magazine article The Spectator

Reality Deficit

Magazine article The Spectator

Reality Deficit

Article excerpt

Ingredient X

Royal Court, until 19 June


Hampstead, until 12 June

In the old days the Royal Court knew that the best way to entertain local millionaires was to stage plays that wallowed in distress and squalor and featured four crack addicts in a squat stabbing each other to death with infected needles. Things changed under Dominic Cooke, who introduced a lighter touch and brought wit, intelligence and a sense of fun to the theatre. But nostalgia is back. The Court has revived its crack-house quartet formula in Nick Grosso's new play, Ingredient X.

The setting is a London high-rise. There's no plot. The action concerts the attempts of two characters to overcome their enthusiasm for alcohol and powders while the other two booze merrily away. Each character has the same double defect: nothing to say and all day to say it. Lesley Sharp plays an interfering Cockney mega-gob whose best friend is an overweight, rum-soaked halfwit from south Wales. These characters are presented with some energy and conviction.

The other two are more of a challenge to the cast. Katie, a stroppy, pea-brained tart, is played by the sophisticated and beautiful Indira Varma, who charmed the West End last year in Michael Grandage's Twelfth Night. Here she attempts to turn herself into a tower-block mum with the IQ of a dolphin. It's an ambitious transformation. Her accent sets off stylishly in the direction of Whitechapel Road but soon packs it in and nips back to Bond Street to pick up some cut-glass vowels. Her partner Frank is played by James Lance, an assured interpreter of Hooray Henrys, whose vocal instrument has the same homesick longings as Varma's. His accent originates in Westminster and pays the occasional visit to the East End, not unlike the Queen Mother, in order to demonstrate that its owner has integrity.

Faulty casting and fake enunciation are indicative of the play's reality deficit. It's hard to believe this is a snapshot of contemporary London when it looks more like a clique of chortling posh kids slumming it in order to refresh the sensation of privilege by a pleasing act comparison. The play begins with a free-form dance routine performed with gusto and not a little self-admiration by the cast and it ends with one of the gang methodically cleaning the entire flat. …

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