THE AGE OF ECSTASY AND AFFRONT
It’s not the first time that the idea of a family “intervention” has tempted a dramatist. Why wouldn’t it? You’ve got one character out of control and in danger, others wrought with anxiety and possibly deluded about their own motives and wisdom. Love, impatience, delusion, rebellion: what can go wrong? Peter Quilter – whose previous smash successes have been fuelled by real lives, of Judy Garland (End of the Rainbow) and Florence Foster Jenkins (Glorious); they have also starred remarkable divas, Tracie Bennett and Maureen Lipman. This time the characters are all his, and the setting modestly experimental: the 90-seat space at the Park, furnished in the round as a suburban living-room, its only physical scar a symbolic diagonal rip in the patterned carpet, revealing a multicoloured plethora of giant pills.
For this is 1996, the height of the Ecstasy and rave-culture craze; when the death of Leah Betts filled parents with terror and exasperated the young who thought themselves safe. Or who – like the eponymous Jason – just needed the “dancing, sweating, screaming under the lights, and afterwards everyone sits and talks with total honesty, and hugs…it might be the edge of a cliff, but it’s got a staggering view”.
His parents, nervy Linda and solid, subtly damaged Trevor (Tor Clark and William Oxborrow) have hit on the wacko intervention tactic of holding a pretend funeral for him in their front room as a warning. They invite her sister Angela, a troublesome am-dram exhibitionist who turns up in a veiled black hat from their last melodrama (“though we sell more raffle tickets when we do an Ayckbourn”). Along too comes her American husband Derek, a big hunk of sissy, wholly unfit to play the celebrant. Mary next door pops in and out too.
After a slow scene-set, 35 minutes in the lad himself appears in a garish anorak and a cloud of 17-year-old affront. Jacques Miché is tremendous as the teenager, catching a familiar mixture of vicious scornfulness, uncertainty and underlying good sense. His resentment of the nonsensical ‘funeral’, complete with portrait, mourning-cards , Iceland buffet food and a catering-pack of inedible crisps, leads quite rapidly to a pleasingly violent food-fight, with buns skimming dangerously past the audiences ears at times. So – Interval!
Except that it doesn’t need an interval: part 2 begins at the same moment, and as a sharp 85-minuter the play would work better. We rapidly, and without much surprise, learn that Linda is an unrecovering alcoholic, Angela (a rumbustious Julie Armstrong) rattles with prescription pills, and the two men have their own issues. Which the clear-eyed exasperated Jason points out. Though, as Linda says, “Just because something’s true doesn’t stop it being rude and offensive” . Mary the neighbour is played with vigour and a touching reality by Paddy Navin, though it is uncertain to me why Quilter had to give the character lines indicating a kind of intermittent dementia and other signs of advanced age, when Navin looks and acts like a spry forty-five year-old. That jars, and it’s a shame because she is a key and interesting figure. Almost surprisingly, the final turnaround of Jason (beautifully handled by Miché) is genuinely convincing, and is brought on by the play’s one sharp plot twist.
It’s interesting enough fun. But I left it wishing it wasn’t set twenty years ago, because that is an awkward world to step back into. The same theme could tackle some generational attitudes (and some different drugs) recognizable now. I would love to see young Miché as a rebellious Snowflake of today, set against lackadaisical boomer parents.
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