Pros: Predictably, Sam Bain’s script contains some sublime humour, made manifest by strong direction and performances.
Cons: If the play contains a message (quite an important ‘if’), it felt slightly lost.
Luke’s had enough of his mentally congested life in London, and has embarked on a retreat in a secluded hut in the sparse Scottish highlands. He’s on his way to finding peace, and getting a taste of the sky-like mind. Another friendly – and attractive – buddhist occupies a cottage not far away, and Luke is only weeks away from being ordained. So far, so zen.
However, things take a turn when his older, funnier, and markedly more irresponsible brother shows up. There’s been a death in the distant family in the equally distant land of Canada; Tony, played by Adam Deacon, has made the considerable journey up from London to announce the grave news. He’s also got a mind to bringing Luke (Samuel Anderson) back down from the hills and into civilisation again, to the flat his little brother owns in the capital.
Although ostensibly a play about ‘spirituality,’ I was struck most by the production’s portrayal of Tony and Luke’s fraternal relationship. The bonds shared by the unconventional pair, following a shared upbringing and a familial tragedy, ring very true – even if at one point Tony does pull a knife on his sibling slightly too casually. Occasionally punctuating their back and forth is Tara (Yasmine Akram), who’s undergoing a retreat nearby and who first appears as the green buddhist deity of the same name, tiara and all.
The three actors each put in excellent performances and effortlessly bring out the comedy of Bain’s script, under Kathy Burke’s direction. Burke keeps the pace up despite the meditation and the claustrophobic bothy. Speaking of which, I felt chilly just looking at designer Paul Wills’ spartan set, while the sound of nearby sheep outside contrasts nicely with the Tibetan prayer flags adoring the walls of Luke’s room.
While I’m not sure quite what message I took away from The Retreat, if any, its ambiguity doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. It’s biting humour consistently lands; the 90 minutes fly by. It meditates (sorry) on a range of subjects, and though it allows the audience to draw their own conclusions, one thing is certain: The Retreat is hilarious, and very entertaining.
Author: Sam Bain
Director: Kathy Burke
Produced by: Debbie Hicks & Jesse Romain
Box office: 020 7870 6876
Booking link: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/
Booking until: 2nd December 2017