Hampstead Theatre debuts a triumphant and courageous new two-hander about addiction, love, and memory. In an effort to get sober, two strangers Alice and Charlie find themselves together at an AA meeting. Their sobriety turns out to be short-lived and the play tracks the pair over the coming days, weeks, months, and years, as they fall in and out of each other's lives. From parades around Alice's favorite Soho haunts to breaking into Churches and Charlie's art school, Joe White's stunning play toys with the character's memories, the audience's perceptions, and ultimately reveals how heartbreakingly difficult it is to recover from addiction.
Rarely do five stars feel warranted but walking out of the auditorium, I had one of those rare experiences where I thought to myself, “this cannot and will not be done better.” Electric were the performances given by Rebecca Humphries and Alex Austin. As Alice, Humphries manages to balance charm and great playfulness with sharpness and brutality. As Alex, Austin is wide-eyed and dangerous, yet susceptible and tender. Both actors have fully-fleshed out their character's humanity which is required of a piece that asks the audience to follow the characters into trenches of their own making.
Holly Khan's sound design marries beautifully with Christopher Nairne's lighting allowing us to jump backward and forwards in time, transporting us from dingy pub to art gallery seamlessly. Designs from Khan and Nairne also usher us into wonderful suspended moments in time. Here, the work of movement director Iskandar R. Sharazuddin is on astonishing display, as audiences witness and almost experience the character's drunkenness, high, or nirvana. Anisha Field's costumes are perfect fits for the characters, Alice's coat, in particular, revealing so much about the character and how she carries herself through the world.
Guy Jones has utilized the downstairs space at Hampstead Theatre well and paces the show at the speed at which Charlie and Alice live their lives. This is to say: fast. It works extremely well throughout. Although the play is about addiction, the journey White takes us on is not a dreary moralistic one. White adds subtle but rich depth to these characters' histories, and how they found themselves in their current predicaments. The script doesn't shy away from the fun and frivolous. Likewise, it embraces the danger, sheer stupidity, and recklessness with which addicts can go about harming themselves and others. The ending, which I refuse to spoil for you, leaves one with two sentiments: first, a profound feeling of compassion, and second, the sense that Joe White has just written a seminal play about addiction.
Review: Matthew Pierce Photo: Tristram Kenton