Park Theatre, London – until 7 July 2018
In some plays, you reach the interval not exactly dissatisfied but wondering “where is this going next? How will it knit up the ends?” So many characters – and their troublesome characteristics – have piled in, manic sitcom style, with bursts of backstory and downright bafflement, that it seems a problem beyond solution in a final hour. That is why you should not leave in the interval.
I wouldn’t have anyway, being keen on Torben Betts, whose Invincible should be much better known. And the superscription of the play promised that it was, beyond the satire about celebrity-TV-chef in family meltdown, a reflection on the “culturally imposed aberration” of nuclear family life in general. I am not sure it achieved that, given that the characters as individuals were so much more (entertainingly) flaky than the norm.
So we had the great Janie Dee as TV cook in rehearsal, clearly drinking too much, preparing a family gathering and rather more bonded to a crucifix on the kitchen wall than is normal in cookery celebs. She has a TV assistant (Genevieve Gaunt) manically Bubble-y, swerving begin street, Sarf-London PA efficiency, and a logorrheic intricacy of sentence. She is in communication with the Mail over some shaming drunken photos of the saintly cook.
Then there’s Caroline’s son (Jack Archer) frustrated by her failure to listen to something he has to tell her (it’ll be Act 2 before he manages) and a hunky builder Amanda fancies and who clearly prefers the maturer mistress of the house. But then, exploding into the kitchen with his gold clubs in comedy woolly pompom hats, there is Mike the red-faced banker husband.
At which point you stop worrying about whether Betts will take it anywhere interesting because Patrick Ryecart is just plain hilarious, from his bristling ginger eyebrows to his ramblingly explosive anecdotes about the glory of golf and his choleric outbursts about “homosexual bolshevist vegetarians” his theory that ‘vegetarian’ is neolithic language for “shit at hunting’. Every scene he is in lights up.
Too many issues of the day seemed to cram in : some current to the characters (Charlie Brooks is very touching as the newly arrived Sally, mistaken for someone else) and many in back-stories. There’s gayness, infidelity, religious mania, Syrian refugees, an Afghanistan veteran suicide, Japanese POW postwar trauma, multiple,sclerosis, autism, benefit cuts and the criminality of the British empire. I began to wonder whether Mr Betts was fulfilling a side-bet on how many issues he could get in without mentioning Brexit.
As to where this entertainingly jerky goes in Act 2, – the answer is drunker, wilder, increasingly funnier (Alistair Whatley of the Original Theatre Company clearly enjoys directing chaos). Characters do grow, esp Dad Mike: I was actually slightly tearful at his realization that he’d never told his son he loved him. Janie Dee is as ever credible even at the characters oddest , drunkest and most religiously transfixed, Archer as the son poignant and infuriating. The carving knife brandished in scene 1 gets its moment, as is the grand tradition of theatremaking; the entire act is constructed in a rising thunderstorm effect.
box office 0207 870 6876 to 7 july