The Motherf**ker With The Hat, National Theatre, review: Gloriously funny and blisteringly honest

Inspires brutal debate without losing sense of the ridiculous

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It would be a shame if the title put you off. Stephen Adly Guirgis's characters may use the f-word (and related profanities) almost as often as they draw breath, but this Tony-nominated play is gloriously funny and blisteringly honest as it shows its flawed, working-class personnel grappling with an unholy mess of addiction, infidelity, health-food and higher powers in contemporary New York.

It kept striking me that, were there ever to be a movie version, Pedro Almodovar might be their man. This is not just because there's an adorably camp gym-bunny cousin Julio (brilliant Yul Vazquez) who daintily dispenses spirulina eggs, pained wisdom, and intermittent offers to release his inner Jean-Claude Van Damme for the family honour.

There's a similar combination of tough moral astuteness and pervasive love, against all the odds, for weak, scapegrace humanity– a spirit captured to perfection in Indhu Rubasingham's wonderfully punchy and electrically well-acted English premiere.

Ricardo Chavira's chunky recovering-alcoholic, Jackie, is just out of jail and has landed a job to impress Veronica, his fiery coke-head childhood sweetheart (Flor de Liz Perez). The outlook seems to be improving until he notices a man's hat in their apartment. We then cut to his AA sponsor Ralph (Alec Newman) who is all hip, born-again piety with his “nutritional beverage plan”, his motivational mantras (“No stinkin' thinkin'/Be more like Abe Lincoln”) – and his “PhD in manipulation and self-loathing”, according to his furiously disillusioned wife (excellent Nathalie Armin). 

It would wrong to give away much about the criss-cross of deceptions but the play builds into a shockingly brutal debate about what kind of life it would be worth staying clean for. It does so without ever losing its sense of the ridiculous. Asked whether he understands what a sponsor is, dignified Julio says “I was in sex addiction fellowship, so yeah, I know. It's all behind me now – no pun intended”. 

To August 20; 020 7452 3000