She’s pulling out all the stops in Robert Icke’s savage and beautifully detailed Headlong production, presented in collaboration with the High Tide Festival and the Nuffield, Southampton. The setting – and what a work of colourful chaos that is in Chloe Lamford’s superb design – is a five-man student flat in Edinburgh.
Well, it’s now a four-man flat, owing to a sudden departure, and a stranded girlfriend, Sophie, is finding consolation with one of the others. Mack and Benny are both at the university, while Cam is on the verge of a breakthrough as a professional violinist and wild man Timp, who works in a nearby restaurant, is turning thirty.
It’s permanent party time – drugs, alcohol, more drugs – as the rubbish bags pile up during a strike, the police mount a blockade along Princes Street, and Cam and Timp are recovering after leading a group of freshers astray on a spurious guided tour of the city; a sixteen year-old Polish girl has stayed overnight and passed out in the bathroom.
We never see her, but the whole of the frenetically sustained brouhaha catches the drama of Cam’s debut; the sexual dependency of Laura (Alison O'Donnell) on Tom Mothersdale’s wonderfully erratic and outrageous Timp – he prances round the flat in “Spank” pants and a ludicrous Mohican hair-cut; and the sadness of shuffling towards the reality of getting a job and facing the real world.
The play is quite long and – this is unusual nowadays – gives itself time to breathe properly. The actors have long lyrical speeches and there are great shifting sands of mood and atmosphere on the stage, which is beautifully lit by Michael Nabarro.
And anchoring it all is the performance of Danny Kirrane (last seen in Jerusalem) as the plump, blonde, unhappy Benny, a vivid cross between the wild rock singer Deco in The Commitments and Philip Seymour Hoffman at his sleaziest.
Benny stays up all night sitting on top of the fridge and finally snaps as the political situation on the street literally spills over into the flat in one of the strongest design coups of the year so far.
Samuel Edward Crook’s sullen, sturdy Mack quietly disengages from Eve Ponsonby’s needy, attractive and confused Sophie, all part of the dying fall in a brilliant ensemble piece where there’s still time for one last party blast. Or is there?