The Acid Test, Royal Court: Theatre Upstairs, London

Reviewed,Paul Taylor
Thursday 26 May 2011 00:00

Anya Reiss won a stack of "most promising playwright" awards for Spur of the Moment, a piece she wrote when she was all of 17. There must be envious contemporaries who would not be heartbroken to see her take a tumble at that notoriously tricky hurdle, the second play. It's bad news for them, I fear.

The Acid Test is a hilarious and painfully perceptive study of the difficulties inherent in the father-daughter relationship; a brilliantly observed snapshot of young, recently graduated middle-class women; and an acute meditation on what we mean by "maturity".

Shaped as a "long night's drunken journey into bleary day" sort of play, the drama is triggered when, to the horrified bemusement of her two female flatmates, 21-year-old Jessica brings her dad back to sleep on the sofa in their messy apartment. Expertly played by Denis Lawson, old irresponsible Jim has just been ejected from his home by a wife who has shacked up with a roofer. That makes Jim's attempts to be hip ("We used to say 'shag', am I hideously out of date? ") or authoritative (he claims, falsely, to be funding the flat) look all the more wince-making.

But as the vodka and the drugs do the rounds in Simon Godwin's superlative production, Jessica's flatmates flirtatiously play up to this amiable, inadequate man. Ruth (Phoebe Fox) has been dumped by a boyfriend called Twix who, but for a mass of fashionable "anti-" stances (he's against Andrex tissue) and manipulative suicide "bids", would seem to be one bar short of the full package. Beautiful, charming Dana (Vanessa Kirby, a star if ever I saw one) wrestles with the notion that she is a conscious slut who uses men – until sleeping with her boss goes horribly wrong. Then she refuses to concede that she won't do it again.

The dialogue and acting capture the way this generation juggle their emotions within shrugging quote marks. There is a climactic, ugly showdown between Jim and Jessica, who is bright-eyed with hurt in Lydia Wilson's quietly gutting performance. He is the kind of man who thinks he can get away with years of emotional absenteeism with a winning declaration that he's not perfect. An excellent follow-up to an extraordinary debut.

To 11 June (020 7565 5000)

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