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The Fastest Clock In the Universe

Philip Ridley's 1992 play is revived at the Old Red Lion in Islington

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Cougar Glass is cruel, vain and shallow: "I can have a gut full of maggots for all I care so long as I've got a suntan," he says nonchalantly.

The protagonist of Philip Ridley's The Fastest Clock In The Universe is reminiscent of Dorian Gray but instead of Victorian London he lives in a flat in the modern East End. Like Oscar Wilde's character he is obsessed with youth, beauty and the power of desire. He treats those around him as objects, caring for no-one; he is in love with his own image.

Tom O'Brien's revival of Ridley's drama, first performed some 21 years ago, is very apt in today's world of celebrity, plastic surgery and cosmetics.

The Fastest Clock In The Universe is a play about a man's desperate attempt to cling on to youth and beauty and the destructive effect this has on himself and those around him. Cougar finds himself fixated with young Foxtrot Darling, a 15 year-old boy whom he lusts after at first sight.

On his birthday, Cougar invites Foxtrot around with nefarious intent, but the evening does not go to plan and tensions develop between the characters, leading to an explosive denouement.

Ridley's script has some memorable lines, including Captain Tock, Cougar's long-suffering partner, declaring, "That's all the universe is: one big torture chamber." The dialogue uses metaphor and storytelling to explore the depths of the characters who, despite their flaws, all have some redeeming qualities.

O'Brien's revival includes powerful performances, with the female cast members Cheetah Bee (Ania Marson), Cougar's neighbour, and Sherbert Gravel (Nancy Sullivan), Foxtrot's girlfriend, captivating with their funny and moving observations on the action. Cougar shocks, with a strong performance from Joshua Blake, and Ian Houghton is a likeable Captain Tock.

Sometimes the drama topples over into absurdity, but the humour is balanced by some frank scenes of sexuality. It explores prescient questions and certainly packs a punch thanks to Ridley's telling and forthright language; characters shout and scream and swear. An exciting, moving, witty and at times disturbing theatrical experience.

The Fastest Clock In The Universe continues at the Old Red Lion until 30 November 2013