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Wet House (Soho Theatre)

Paddy Campbell's knock out play comes to Soho Theatre following its world premiere at Live Theatre, Newcastle last year

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

If you like theatre that is not afraid to challenge your preconceptions, that highlights real problems, that has physical and psychological violence juxtaposed with moments of tenderness, and that has dark humour which treads the precarious line of funny and cruel, do not miss Wet House at Soho Theatre.

Set in a homeless hostel for alcoholics, the play opens with a shift handover between staff members Helen, played by Jackie Lye, and Mike, played by Chris Connel. As Helen describes what the residents had been up to overnight, the pair's unapologetic dark jokes at their expense are a warning to anyone uncomfortable with humour outside the politically correct square of safety. Those who have worked in, or experienced, the care industry, will be all too familiar with the coping mechanism of dark humour.

We're introduced to the third staff member, Andy, played by Riley Jones, who is a recent graduate and new recruit. Starting out with a desire to make a difference and carefully reading the clients' files, the play charts his journey into darkness as he is led astray by his cynical colleague, the "psychopathic ex squaddie", Mike. The relationships of the three staff members, whose lives revolve around "this hellhole", are complicated by the cover up of a violent act, which reveals their own weaknesses in a place where they are meant to provide support. Each one, in their own way, abuses the lack of scrutiny over the way they treat the alcoholics and this cleverly highlights a deep-rooted problem for the care industry. If no else cares, why should they?

Intermingled with the destruction of Andy's innocence are the stories of three of the residents, a jovial older drunk named Digger who is trying to get clean to see his kids, a self-loathing victim of the care system called Kerry who can't seem to break the cycle and a convicted paedophile named Spencer who just wants to keep his head down. All three cast members give convincing performances with Eva Quinn, playing Kerry, masterfully capturing the fragility just below the hard surface of someone not used to kindness. Joe Caffrey, playing Dinger, provides a foolish, light humour that's a welcome antidote to Mike's cruelty.

Writer Paddy Campbell, who is ably served by director Max Roberts, is certainly one to watch for the future.His real life experience of working in a wet house clearly equipped him with plenty of material, but to create a challenging work like this takes talent, skill and bucket-loads of empathy. He successfully shows that destructive behaviour takes many forms and that genuine kindness takes a lot more than gesture.