What a barnstorming return this is for Nick Grosso, a writer who's been off the theatrical radar for nearly ten years.
This is kitchen sink drama, only now the sink sits on a faux-granite worksurface in a flashy warehouse apartment. But no amount of mod cons can disguise the fact that the situation these 30 and 40-somethings are in is a desperate one – all are dealing in various ways with the fall-out of addiction.
Katie's invited her friends Deanne and Rosanna round to watch X-Factor. Her partner Frank, a recovering drug addict, manfully puts up with them as they treat him like a barman, twice sending him out to fetch coke (as in cola) and ice. But when he disappears for more than half an hour, doubts about his whereabouts creep in, and Deanne and Rosanna, themselves haunted by their own failed relationships, delight in winding Katie up; “you're addicted to addicts” suggests Rosanna, helpfully.
Grosso touches on addictions of many kinds, from drugs and alcohol through to video games, internet surfing and even dysfunction. The generation of libidinous lads he chronicled in the 90s has – unsurprisingly – produced women like Katie, Deanne and Rosanna, who find their children without fathers and their partners without responsibility.
But this isn't just a play about addiction, it's also a pinpoint study of female friendship. Although I found it difficult to believe that the sensitive and sophisticated Katie would be so close to the coarse Rosanna and Deanne, nevertheless the way the power shifts around between the three is fascinating to watch. Poor old Frank is a pawn who takes their bullying in good humour, but there's always the threat that he will crack (dare I say one couldn't blame him for turning to his pipe).
Of the performances, the show-stealer is Lesley Sharp, in her element as the swaggering, cajoling, nitpicking Rosanna, a sadistic psychoanalyst who revels in the failings of others, while readily admitting to her own. Matching her for laughs however is Lisa Palfrey as the self-condemned “fat slag” Deanne - a study in self-destruction, a Welsh bonne vivante with four kids from four men who drinks the flat dry but denies she's an alcoholic.
As Frank and Katie, James Lance and Indira Varma are well matched and provide a nicely underplayed foil to the larger-than-life Sharp and Palfrey. Their relationship is complicated but touchingly co-dependent; when Frank discovers a friend and fellow addict has died, he childishly asks Katie why. And in a solemn, sober conclusion, he pours away the dregs of rum and cleans up the flat, a symbolic finale that ensures this engrossing evening ends with a glimmer of optimism.