nick730 (nick730) wrote,

Theatre review: Red Bud

Set designs at the Royal Court Upstairs have disappointingly stuck to end-on staging so far this year, so even though in-the-round isn't quite a revolutionary alternative, it makes a change. For Brett Neveu's Red Bud the audience surrounds a campsite, which with its dirt-and-grass floor immediately reminded me of the similar setup for A Miracle, with its famously terrible sightlines, so I was glad we were at the front of the queue and could pick seats that weren't obstructed. Actually I suspect unless you sit right by the onstage pickup truck or one of the tents you'll probably be able to see fine from most seats.

Five friends have been meeting up every year and camping out by the Red Bud motocross championship. Now approaching middle age though, the other issues in their lives can no longer necessarily be blocked out just by getting drunk and stoned. The cast put a hell of a lot of effort into Jo McKinnes' energetic production, which starts with a physical stunt and doesn't let up much. Although everyone's good Peter McDonald, admittedly already a favourite of mine, is the standout as the fucked-up Greg, and even though stage "alcohol" is nothing of the sort, that's still a lot of liquid he downs over the course of the hour. He also has to pee onstage but although I wasn't at the ideal angle to confirm this, I strongly suspect his Astonishing Coup de Theatre was faked - some subsequent leakage from a not-very-anatomically-correct location provided a subtle hint there. Anyway, he might now be getting cast in middle-aged roles but I Still Definitely Would.

The play itself, unfortunately, never matches up to the strong production it's given. I went with Jan, who said it felt at least half an hour longer than it actually lasted; I don't entirely agree with that but it does feel pretty aimless. Quite early on you get the impression this isn't really going to go anywhere, which turns out to be fairly accurate. And while it's impressive that the cast can keep up the relentless energy and aggression, it does lead to a monotony as they're basically just shouting at each other from start to finish, even if things do escalate physically. The characters all feel underdeveloped as well. As the sole outsider in the group, Jana, the much younger girlfriend of one of the men, should provide an interesting counterpoint but despite Isabel Ellison's best efforts she's not really given enough to work with. One other thing worth noting is that the production is quite physically uncomfortable, and not because of the bench seating, which is the same as for most shows at this theatre. Maybe it's because I still have some of this cold but in this attic space we have quite strong-smelling lawn, a lot of dirt gets kicked up, fake cigarettes are smoked and for about half the running time there's a log fire burning in the middle of the stage. It's all pretty foggy and headachy by the end. Not the worst show in this theatre so far this year, but not one I'd recommend either.

Red Bud by Brett Neveu is booking until the 13th of November at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.
Tags: peter mcdonald, theatre, theatre reviews

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