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A CurtainUp London London Review
Ingredient X

No ice? That's really spoiled my night that has. Honestly you couldn't make it up. If I were to tell someone what happened tonight no-one would believe me. First no-one gave me a drink. Three hours I waited. Then when the drink did finally arrive there was no coke. Then when the coke finally arrived there was no ice! Next you'll be telling me there's no bar snacks. — Deanne
Ingredient X
Lesley Sharp as Rosanna, Indira Varma as Katie and Lisa Palfrey as Deanne (Photo: Keith Pattison)
After a long gap since A Real Classy Affair Nick Grosso is back at the Royal Court with a sideways look at addiction, covering most forms of addictive behaviour from football and reality television to drink, drugs and people addicted to repetitive behaviour.

The plays opens with a really spellbinding rewinding of action we haven't yet seen to a jazzy piece of music. Drinks are poured back into bottles as we mentally retrace who left them there unconsumed and the open plan untidy living room/ kitchen becomes a tidy area. Frank (James Lance) is watching football on the television when he is interrupted by the arrival of Rosanna (Lesley Sharp) and Deanne (Lisa Palfrey) who have come to spend Saturday night with Frank and Katie (Indira Varma). These visitors, women in their mid-forties, are there to share a curry, drink a lot and watch the latest reality audition show, The X Factor. Along the way we learn about their families and their problems and are exposed to a rainbow of addictions.

None of Grosso's characters are really likeable or sympathetic and this places the audience in a predicament. Rosanna likes the sound of her own voice and is intransigent and opinionated in a very negative and destructive way. If she is addicted to anything, it's carping about other people and finding fault where none was intended. Deanne, with an abusive childhood behind her, has four children from four different men, overeats and gets belligerent when demanding more alcohol. Katie and Frank having been to "meetings" to handle Frank's drug addiction reel out the prissy soundbites expected of the recovering drug dependents in group therapy, "it's not alcoholwasm, it's alcoholism they spout, sounding trite and naive as they argue that addictive behaviour is not something you can choose. Left alone, Rosanna and Deanna comment on Katie's predilection for relationships with drug addicts: she was married to a pop star and now lives with Frank and works for another addict.

If Grosso's play is a slice of real life, it is a life of communal misery and despair raddled with insecurity and futility. We are hamsters on a wheel, following repetitive routines which lead no-where. Grosso doesn't allow us to dwell on any of the characters or their predicament before swiftly moving onto someone else's addiction. Deanna son' with unmanaged diabetes is matched by her recidivist other son who will re-offend after being in prison before seeing her. Her only contact with him will be in the form of a call from the police saying he's been arrested again.

Lesley Sharp is magnificent as resentful Rose who never holds back when there is something unpalatable to be said. "Ask Kate. She's an expert on the subject. She's had more addicts than I've had leg waxes." Rose often amusingly forgets the last word of sayings, uttering things like "Discretion is the better part of . . ." and "A problem shared is a problem . . ." She rattles through her condemnation of those around her and even the detailed, accurate but disturbing description of what her ex-husband, a drug addict has become, fails to ignite a candle of sympathy. When she upsets and hurts her friends, she repeatedly claims that she is telling it how it is.

Lisa Palfrey's character Deanne has good intentions but is permanently flaky, making endless resolutions that she never carries through and gets nasty when there is no drink available. Worn down Indira Varma as Katie is trying to get it right but lands up with liabilities, men needing her care and support as well as a daughter staying with Kate's druggie ex and his new wife and Katie and Frank's new baby. Frank closes the play with a frenetic cleaning job, probably demonstrating just a touch of OCD when I fully expected him to start snorting the coke he scored when he went out. I was wrong. Frank is the character who seems not to believe in what he is saying but that may be deliberate.

Too many of the addictions are merely touched on, mentioned in passing, celebrities with Botox or cosmetic enhancements, the kids next door and video games, addiction to the internet or internet dating, but there is a rhythm to Nick Grosso's writing, some of it like soliloquies off the street but his subjects are bleak and the play is hard to recommend.

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Ingredient X
Written by Nick Grosso
Directed by Deborah Bruce

Starring: Lesley Sharp, Indira Varma
With: Lisa Palfrey, James Lance
Design: Ben Stones
Lighting: Matt Drury
Sound: David McSeveney
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking at the Royal Court to 19th June 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 29th May 2010 performance at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)

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