Reviewing Rikki Beadle-Blair's latest play...
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Rikki Beadle-Blair’s new play for the Theatre Royal Stratford is billed as being, ‘Daring, shocking and intensely emotional’ and while ‘Gutted’ certainly pulls no punches, after three hours in the theatre I couldn’t help but feel that less might have been more.
Beadle-Blair is a prolific playwright, having penned his first attempt at the genre at the unbelievably tender age of seven, so he’s experienced in the art form, but for his latest work also assumes the mantle of director and designer. In addition he’s also recorded the interval announcements – I was half expecting him to be selling ice creams as well! But by taking total control of the project his enthusiasm, energy and commitment appear to have blinded to him to some glaringly clunky aspects of the play’s dramaturgy. Maybe if more people had been involved in the production and design etc., someone would have realised that ‘Gutted’ needed some judicious pruning, as it’s hampered by its length as the second act in particular drags.
The whole play is delivered at a fever-pitch like intensity, so the occasional moments of calm come as a blessed relief from torrent of colourful language and emotions. I’m all for the occasional ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’, but when every other word seems to be an expletive, the impact of those words is negated.
Beadle-Blair presents us with a family so dysfunctional that it makes the Oedipus myth look like something you’d find on CBeebies. The story revolves around the Prospect brothers, the eldest of whom Matthew has been sexually abused by his late father. Matthew (James Farrar) is a footballer for Millwall, and when he and his three brothers aren’t indulging in mutual wanking sessions, he’s abusing them. The reason for this is that his now-deceased father abused him, so abuse runs as freely as incest within this particular family unit. The other three brothers include Mark (Frankie Fitzgerald) who is trying to comes to terms with the fact that he wasn’t abused by his Dad in a ‘what did I do wrong’ kind of way, John (Gavin McClusky,) a convert to Islam following a spell inside and Luke (Jamie Nichols) who is a bit of a psycho.
The matriarch of the family is mother Bride (Louise Jameson), who is trying to hold the family together despite having turned a blind eye to the abuse that’s been going on right under her nose. If that wasn’t enough, Mark’s wife Janine is physically abusing their kids, as she was in turned abused by her mother. If there’s a message within this sprawling play it’s that abuse is passed from one generation to the next in a seemingly endless cycle.
The prolific use of flashback lends a headlong pace to the proceedings and in doing so creates a lack of empathy for the characters. I felt I was never being allowed ‘in’ on their world, and as such didn’t really care that much what happened to them by the end.
Despite its shortcomings, there can be no doubt that all the actors deliver energetic, faultless performances, confirming that they have thrown themselves into this venture lock, stock and barrel, and it’s certainly never dull, but I can’t help thinking that if Gutted had been worked on by a creative team, rather than by one person, that the results would have been vastly improved.
GT gives Gutted 3/5
Gutted is at Theatre Royal Stratford East until Saturday 25 May. For more information and to book tickets click here
Words: Keith McDonnell