Pros: A fantastically funny script, delivered with relish.
Cons: The “mateyness” of the dialogue occasionally became a bit wearing.
In a strip-lit garage, Jen and her uncle Len are drinking cider and trying to despatch mice. They are also trying to come to terms with the recent death of Jen’s father (Len’s brother). The rest of the play continues in much the same vein; at intervals over the course of six months, Jen and Len hang out together in the garage. The activity changes, but the cider and the banter stay the same as we gradually learn more about the circumstances of Jen’s fathers death. Suffice to say that these are topical and they only add to Jen’s grief and confusion.
Despite the gloomy introduction it’s anything but! There are dark moments but essentially this is a comedy in which Uncle Len is the comic and Jen the straight man. Len, played superbly by Graham O’Mara, is the much, much less successful of the two brothers; he claims not to have missed a day in the pub his entire adult life and his approach to grief counselling is to offer booze and talk rubbish. The nonsense he talks is extremely funny, covering topics including genitals, MC Hammer, Jen’s mum and his own sorry life. He is also a warm and loving uncle who desperately wants to help and protect his niece (a romantic portrait of the career alcoholic, but forgivable in a show this good).
The relationship between the two characters is beautifully realised, both in the script and in the actors’ performances. The dialogue is fast, energetic and muscular, yet manages to reveal all the tenderness beneath it. Despite looking like he’d blow over in a light wind, Len proves to be a pretty sturdy rock. As Jen goes through phases of incomprehension, denial and anger, Len absorbs it all, never reproachful, never judgemental, and always foul-mouthed.
The garage setting has been meticulously realised, with rusty paint cans, golf clubs, garden tools and assorted old tat (pity the poor stage hands who have to arrange all the props each night, just for Jen & Len to pack everything up during the final scene). It is intimate, without being cosy; the perfect setting for a relationship that is affectionate without ever being soppy.
This is a brilliant debut from writer Stuart Slade. It does ask some interesting questions about how we judge the past, about forgiveness, about acceptance. And it does make you wish you had an unemployed, drunk, unkempt uncle of your own. But mostly it’s just a great laugh, and I hope there’s more where it came from.
Author: Stuart Slade
Director: Dan Pick
Producer: Kuleshov, Theatre 503 and Etch
Booking Until: 29th November 2014
Box office: 020 7978 7040
Booking link: https://theatre503.com/book-online/