Review: The Acid Test, The Cockpit Theatre

Headed by Maisie Robinson, Succubus Productions launches its first stage appearance at The Cockpit Theatre with The Acid Test, a play with themes that still resonate six years into its future. First performed in 2011 at the Royal Court, it is the second play from British playwright Anya Reiss. Her debut play Spur of the Moment conquered The Evening Standard’s award for Best New Play in 2010, as well as earning her the Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright.

Reiss’s work draws heavily on the divide between immaturity and maturity, as well as the madness that comes with such a confusing part of the aging process. The Acid Test follows Dana (Issy Brazier-Jones), Ruth (Carla Harrison-Hodge) and Jess (Robinson), three friends in their early twenties as they come up against the struggles of life post-education. Their flat in London is abruptly invaded by Jess’s father Jim (Alistair Scott) when he is thrown out of the family home, his presence adding to an already tragic evening. As night becomes day, the group turn to intoxicating substances in an attempt to tipple the balance between young and old, but it seems that the pressures experienced by the millennial generation do not surrender as quickly as they would have hoped.

Designed by Christianna Mason, the set has an almost kaleidoscopic effect. Staged in the round, empty bottles of alcohol decorate the furniture within the living room like an elephant graveyard of drunken mistakes. A thick layer of glitter covers every available surface and balloons dance around the edges of the flat along with an inflatable cactus and a bright pink flamingo. Streamers are flung over a television set in the same manner as the girls’ handbags, discarded carelessly while they play loud music and drink enthusiastically amid the mess of Gen Y rubble.

The production takes a while to build momentum. Choosing to leave the stage unoccupied or near empty for some time at the beginning absorbed the earlier surge of energy that the actors had created while the audience took their seats. This meant that the strength of Reiss’s script took longer to develop than it should have done. However, when it catches up with itself, the action is engaging and playful, with each character grounded and firmly established. Before long, the initial awkwardness of Jim’s arrival is doused in raspberry-flavoured vodka before being forgotten during the hilarity of the girls’ struggle to censor themselves.

Subplot is communicated through choreographed scene changes in which a haze of tension and release provide an exciting and unexpected layer to the story. Moments such as these echo the seamless use of light and sound throughout, with both elements working well to capture the attention of the spectator. However, when an attempt at relationship advice goes sour, tragedy after tragedy rolls in on a relentless tide of disagreement. Subsequently, the pace of the play takes on that of the repetitive arguments between the characters, and while still impactful at points, time seems to move slowly once again.

Succubus Productions have done well to revive such an important and relatable narrative. Each actor is clearly accomplished and the level of skill in the design is most impressive. Some adjustments to its length would not go amiss, but no doubt this adaptation will be seen in the coming year on the Fringe circuit in both London and Edinburgh. If so, it is well worth seeing.

The Acid Test played at The Cockpit Theatre from 5-9 December 2017.

Photo: Succubus Productions