The Retreat is ninety minutes with two ordinary brothers and a woman that raises many life-affirming questions, ultimately pointing to the futility of the way we lead our lives. The comedy only gets funnier with character developments. Bain’s Comedy-Drama is utterly amusing but deep and reflective at the same time.
The plot builds around the relationship between two polar opposite brothers – one the drug-taking, sex-hungry, bad-boy Tony and the other, Luke, the ‘golden boy’ in the process of exchanging a successful career in London for the life of a Buddhist. At first, I dismiss Tony as the unambitious and ignorant brother, who interrupts the serenity of Luke’s three-month Retreat with cocaine, a Stella Artois and rap music on a portable speaker, relentlessly making us laugh with his ignorance of Buddhism. But as the play unfolds, I am made to question who really has the moral and intellectual high-ground. They push each other to breaking point, challenging the reasoning or social correctness behind each other’s lives. Tony mocks Luke for practising compassion in a state of complete isolation whilst Luke belittles Tony for being the stereotypical underachiever – in debt and scrounging off his brother. Despite the dumb façade, Tony pokes sizeable holes in the rationality and morality in a supposedly sacred and moral lifestyle.
Bain seems to be asking some poignant Existentialist questions. Is there any point in searching for happiness? Is a religious life any less selfish than indulging in mass culture? What is the sense in our continuous strive for success in the face of death? The questions are unanswerable for the characters.
The ending seems to point to the fact that we create these metanarrative visions for our lives, only to continue in the same old way.
The set is perfect, a very realistic capturing of a one-roomed stone hut in the Scottish Highlands. It is decked with meagre possessions – a stove, a few pots and pans, a single bed, chair and a centrally-placed Buddhist shrine. I particularly like the touch of the door opening onto an outdoor space littered with dirt and leaves, that get trodden into the hut. The cramped space creates an awkwardness about the characters movements, when all three are pressed in their together and I enjoy the way this is dealt with in a very human way. One issue I have with the staging is that the actors do not perform to the circle seats. Thus, with the unusual design of the Park200 Theatre, I was craning my neck only to get a birds-eye view of the action.
Adam Deacon as Luke is hilarious, delivering every knock-out joke perfectly, stone-faced whilst the audience howl. He captures the vulnerability of his character behind the vulgar and cocky persona. I found Samuel Anderson a little slow to warm-up, but then the brothers were thoroughly engaging.
Overall, The Retreat has turned out to be a witty, intelligent and poignant debut play.
The Retreat is playing at the Park Theatre until 2nd December. For more information and tickets, see www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-retreat