The Theatreguide.London Review
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs Summer 2015
I can't remember when I last saw such a pleasurable mix of bright healthy comedy and dark drama, and if Gary Owen's play dissipates some of its power by shooting off in too many different directions, the Welsh playwright's Royal Court debut is clearly a work of real talent.
When his mother died, teenager Liam had nowhere to go but the home of Rick, the father he never knew, a boozing Welshman whose nickname of Violence reflects his propensity for bar room brawls.
The Odd Couple pairing of the nerdy Doctor Who fan and the hard-drinking hard-living bully, mediated by dad's relatively normal girlfriend Suze, has both comic and dramatic potential that Owen's script and Hamish Pirie's production fully explore.
Against the odds, Liam manages to attract Jen, one of his school's cool girls and, equally improbably, Rick's crude advice on wooing actually seems to help the shy lad begin to win her heart.
But a beginner trying to play the game like an expert is bound to stumble and, in one of the play's weaker sequences, Liam does something wrong-footed enough to damage not just the budding romance but his attempt to be a better man than his father.
We are who we are, regardless of who we want to be, the play says, though we do deserve some credit for trying.
If the play's ending may seem abrupt, it does follow logically as one direction the plot could take. And anyway the real pleasures have been in what came before, particularly in the attractive and believable, if occasionally surprising relationships of Liam and Jen and of Liam and Rick.
The tentative scenes between the shy guy sometimes more surprised than we by the exactly right things he hears himself saying and the girl confused by her attraction to the kind of boy she would ordinarily not even notice are thoroughly charming in their warm humour.
And the father-son scenes continually surprise us as each exposes sides to his character we hadn't suspected but are delighted to believe fully.
Along with the warm comedy of situations and characters, there are flashes of wit, as when Liam introduces his father to Jen as 'Rick, spelled with a silent P', or when Rick's idea of getting rid of all the liquor in the house so he can be sober for his son involves leaving it in the local park for the kids to enjoy.
The play does occasionally wander off into insufficiently fruitful digressions on feminism, death, casual sexism, pub violence and the relative merits of Doctor Who actors, and is at its best when it stays focused on the two central relationships.
Director Hamish Pirie navigates an in-the-round staging adeptly and leads his cast to attractive and convincing performances, with Siwan Morris as Suze and Jason Hughes as Rick providing solid support to Morfydd Clark and David Moorst as the younger couple.
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