Reagan Kelly is a parade of millennial tropes that teeters between the utterly ridiculous and the downright brilliant. The opening contains an ode to a drunken night out, the cast is introduced by way of an awkward dad-dance, and the play’s title is scrawled across the background in multi-coloured bubble writing. Watching Reagan Kelly is like slipping into a miserably cold swimming pool. At first, you’ll want to jump right back out, but if you can tolerate those first few minutes, you’ll see that everything quickly warms up.
Reagan (Rachel Breeze) is an unabashed 20-something whose life is marred by her inexplicable anger at the world. With hobbies such as drinking, swearing, one-night-stands, setting things alight, and standing on tables, she quickly emerges as an unapologetic amalgamation of stereotypes, making her about as relatable a carrier bag. But this is not Reagan’s story.
In fact, scenes tend to cripple under the weight of her dominance. Instead of inspiring the audience’s sympathy, she comes across as spoilt, reckless, and bullish. Combine this with the actor’s rushed line delivery and we soon come to treasure the moments in which she is absent.
Twin brother Oliver (Bertie Taylor-Smith), on the other hand, is the real victim of society. By all rights, the advent of an open-minded, welcoming new era should have him leaping for joy (though god forbid we should be subjected to more dancing). His awkward demeanour, quirky non-conformity, and wavering sexuality make him the ideal poster boy for any liberal movement. However, as a timid, normality-seeking young man, nothing would please Oliver less. Consequently, the play follows his anguished attempts to hide away from an overly enthusiastic twenty-first century culture. He endures a shaky engagement to a typical girl-next-door, plays the part of a doting husband-to-be, but ultimately falls for heart-warming encounters with loveable rouge Hugh (Eddie Mann).
Taylor-Smith is an undeniable joy to behold. Though none of the actors particularly hold back, the script still lingers on their tongues and propagates a distinctly unnatural tone. In contrast, Taylor-Smith does not act like an actor, but actually becomes the character; in the moment, he could be no one other than Oliver Kelly. In all fairness, the set is a threadbare skeleton, and the props are limited to a few black boxes upon which the characters chalk out various bits of scenery. It takes a wild degree of presence to fill such an empty stage, and so the cast can be forgiven for a certain degree of overacting.
For a relatively young company, The Out of Work Collective finishes Lewis Treston’s piece to a high production standard. Music, though at times guilty of drowning out the spoken word, is aptly used as a reflection of the characters’ current state of mind. The physical element is just as impressive, with well-oiled scene changes and props that are always to hand. Overall, the play just feels effortless to watch.
It’s quite an achievement to create something that swings so far between playing up to a stereotype and showcasing the flaws of the society that fosters it. Devastatingly, Reagan Kelly, the character, is a tiresome addition to the very play named after her. Take her out of the equation, however, and you have Reagan Kelly: a charming, funny, and inquisitive view of family life today.
Reagan Kelly played The Lion & Unicorn Theatre until October 8 2017.
Photo: Lion & Unicorn Theatre