The Acid Test

Tue 18th – Sat 22nd October 2011


Duncan Montgomery

at 22:45 on 19th Oct 2011



It’s hard to successfully explain the concept of a play like The Acid Test to anyone, especially anyone of student age. It’s a fairly simple concept, but attempting to get someone to go to the theatre to watch a small cast of believable-but-not-overly-likeable characters get progressively drunker, more drugged-up, and more vicious just doesn’t sound like an enjoyable experience. They’ve got issues, but then so do the characters in Skins.

However, despite a premise which seems to beg for shallow and ironic treatment (the dialogue laden with an appropriate number of swear words and pop-culture references) Anya Reiss’ new play is realistic, funny, affecting, and most importantly, not cringe-inducing. This production succeeded in turning in one of the cosiest performance spaces in Cambridge, the Corpus Playrooms, into a flat so real you can identify your own idioms in the characters’ speech, and even recognise the bottles of cheap wine lying around the set. A play with such naturalistic dialogue demands careful handling; it really doesn’t take much to make pop-culture references sound painfully try-hard, especially when they reference Dubstep and Eastenders. Yet this production overcame this; initially, the level of swearing sounds excessive, but once you are drawn into the plot, you are forced to admit that it is noticeable only for being onstage.

The production’s success really rests on its exploitation of a tragic-comic plot trajectory; the play relies upon a dramatic practice often termed, in schools, the “tickle-punch” technique. So while exceptional performances from Brid Arnstein and Sophie Crawford made the opening of the play hilarious, the tension between Ruth and her father (Hannah Phillips and Quentin Beroud) brought the play to an aptly “sobering” finale. Ultimately, this was a brilliant production of a play about that moment when drunken revelry gets serious, when “shit gets real”, as it were. Attempting to explain why it’s great doesn’t seem to work; the best advice I can give is just to go and see it.


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