Step 9 of 12 takes a dark look at what happens when a troubled, damaged individual reaches the ninth step – forgiveness – in the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programme.
Sober for the longest period he’s managed in years, protagonist Keith (Inbetweeners star Blake Harrison) must try and gain forgiveness from those he has hurt in his past – not an easy task, considering what we learn about his background when former foster parents Alan and Judith come to visit.
It soon becomes clear that Keith has fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the programme, refusing to take any true responsibility for his own actions and unable to cope with the idea that his terrible behaviour can not be forgiven.
It’s a good premise but despite Hayes’s ear for witty dialogue there are glaring problems that prevent the work from reaching its potential: why do Alan and Judith remain in Keith’s flat for such a protracted period of time? There are some clever lines – “I’ve forgiven myself on your behalf,” says Keith at one point and later he protests that he did not rape his foster mother on the grounds that he “only got half in” - but all too often the words seem overly glib, never really hitting home or feeling very truthful.
Hayes writes Keith as almost irredeemably unfriendly and it is testament to Harrison’s nuanced performance that we see any glimpses beneath the harsh veneer created for this truly damaged man. Barry McCarthy is probably the strongest of the group as foster father Alan, overly supportive to someone who has ruined his life in so many ways, but this isn’t enough to allay an encroaching sense of boredom.
Francesca Reidy’s set does not help matters – it is cramped and leaves little space for effective movement and Tom Attenborough’s direction is overly static, contributing to the general sense of malaise. Ben Dilloway, in a late entrance as former friend Mark, practically steals the show and injects a much-needed chunk of excitement into proceedings. But even this moment is short and ill-judged.