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Review Round-up: Reiss Seeks Gold with Acid Test

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Anya Reiss' second play The Acid Test opened this week (23 May, previews from 13 May) at the Royal Court. Following the success of Reiss' Spur of the Moment, which debuted last summer, Reiss went on to win Most Promising Playwright prizes at both the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle awards.

Questioning whether age equals maturity {The Acid Test::L1104241017} follows twentysomething friends Dana, Ruth and Jessica as they down shots and empty vodka bottles in a London flat. Kicked out from the family home, Jessica’s dad Jim invades the party and proves to be as raucous as the girls. As they drink the night away, the quartet finds their emotions flowing as often as their drinks.

Directed by Simon Godwin, the production stars Phoebe Fox, Vanessa Kirby, Denis Lawson and Lydia Wilson and features set design by Paul Wills. It continues its run at the Royal Court until 11 June.

Michael Coveney

“As in her first play, Reiss displays a real gift for high quality sitcom dialogue, and she can effortlessly translate how she and her middle-class, privately educated friends behave directly to the stage … While it’s not so startlingly conceived, or indeed executed, as Spur, it’s still a much better than disappointing second play. And like Polly Stenham, Reiss clearly has a future. This is a long night of the soul, with diversions, as Dana scoots off for a tryst she regrets and Ruth disappears when the boyfriend jumps of a bus shelter and ends up in hospital. Jim, played with dapper charm and a well-observed modicum of ‘dad dancing’ cringe factor by Denis Lawson, keeps the party going and the drinks flowing. And Simon Godwin’s production is a beauty, even when the snap, crackle and pop inevitably fizzles and phuts with the vodka intake, the spliffs and the enveloping gloom of pre-dawn anomie. Lydia Wilson has occasional problems keeping the cipher-ish Jessica ‘alive’ on the stage, but Vanessa Kirby as blonde bombshell Dana and Phoebe Fox as the faintly off-kilter, comical Ruth are both exceptional, and utterly believable.”

Michael Billington

“The sharply observant Reiss scores most heavily in showing the limitless capacity of parents to embarrass their offspring: the more Jim seeks to enter into the party spirit by joking, dancing and smoking a joint with the girls, the more Jessica visibly cringes ... Even better is the situation's tangible air of sexual excitement that Reiss is shrewd enough to leave unsatisfied. But, for all its surface vivacity and painful excavation of father-daughter relationships, the play steers towards a glib denouement ... Her 90-minute play is, however, well directed by Simon Godwin and deftly designed by Paul Wills ... The excellent performances also survive our close-up scrutiny. Vanessa Kirby as the seductive Dana and Phoebe Fox as the angsty Ruth hover around Denis Lawson's crumpled catalyst like honey bees while Lydia Wilson's Jessica gazes on in appalled horror since she knows her father's true character. Like its predecessor, Reiss's play proves she knows a thing or two about the pervasive effect of parental discord on the young.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

“Traditionally an acid test has been used to distinguish gold from lesser metals, which makes the title of Anya Reiss' second play peculiarly apt (and deliberately so, I suspect) … Denis Lawson's Jim may not be good at talking to his daughter but her friends think he's brilliant … Simon Godwin directs with fluency and an eye for telling detail, and his cast serves him superbly. Phoebe Fox, whose Ruth is a mixture of sulk and firecracker, strikes me as a real find ... As demonstrative Dana, Vanessa Kirby displays a lovely brightness and a fine command of timing. And Lydia Wilson, as Jess, gives a performance of sensitivity and depth. Occasionally the writing strains credibility ... But it has wit and heart, and much of the dialogue is disconcertingly authentic. Adept at capturing the cadences of post-adolescent chatter, Reiss also knows how to probe the most raw emotions.”

Dominic Maxwell
The Times

“What a startlingly fine entertainment this is. It’s one thing for Reiss to be able to render the language, mores and self-dramatising tendencies of her three flat-sharing friends, all in their early twenties. But she is almost as acute and amusing with the foibles of the middle-aged … Reiss’ 90 minutes give each of her characters a complex life of their own … We know, even as the first half keeps us high on its adroit ironies, that Reiss has to go dark at some point. But we don’t need another play where daddy is a child abuser, do we? ... Wilson plays Jess’ awkward sarcasm a treat … Reiss’s ability to allow competing points of view is startling, and not just for her age. She falters only when she forces her characters into an overconvenient ending. Simon Godwin’s production is a marvel, putting us into the heart of the action throughout. Paul Wills’ design makes the audience snake around a council-flat corridor to get to the auditorium. Once there, we sit around the set, as if in this living-room. It’s wonderfully intimate, frequently funny, but not sentimental or showy. The humour, like the sadness, comes from character and situation throughout.”

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"Anya Reiss, at the age of 17 wrote a play called Spur of the Moment ... Now at the ripe old age of 19 she delivers her second work, and though blessed with vivacious comic dialogue and sharp characterisation, it is far less startling than her debut ... Denis Lawson is in blissful comic form as the disconcerting Dad, resembling a smug cat with two bowls of cream as he chats up Jessica’s friends. Lydia Wilson nails his daughter’s embarrassment and fury at her father’s behaviour but the script could delve deeper into their mutual antipathy. Like Lawson’s character, I have to admit to being smitten by Vanessa Kirby and Phoebe Fox as the flatmates, the one a promiscuous posh-totty blonde bombshell, the other suffering deliciously comic agonies in her love life. The Acid Test certainly isn’t a dud, but it does seem more like the promising pilot for a sitcom than a fully achieved stage drama."

- Matt Hannigan


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