Review – Ingredient X, Royal Court

I don’t believe it. The spell of unfailing strong work from the Royal Court has been broken, because this one’s a real turkey. Two hours of unremitting misery served up through flat and repetitive writing, some unbelievably poor directorial choices and competent but poorly cast performers.

You what? You heard.

Ingredient X
Frank (James Lance, the best thing in it) and Katie (Indira Varma, miscast) are having some friends and neighbours over to watch the X Factor. Frank (catch phrase: “You should go to a meeting”) is a recovering drug addict and Katie is an unrecovered addict addict (catch phrase: “Addiction is a disease”). Katie has had two children and everybody talks about how tired and crap she looks the whole time; I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Indira Varma, but what tired and crap is not how she’s typically described as looking.

The neighbours they have invited round are Deane (Lisa Palfrey, catch phrase: “Give me another drink”) and Rosanna (Lesley Sharp, catch phrase: “All men are bastards”). It’s never quite clear where they all live: Katie and Frank seem to live in a smart loft conversion full of cushions from Peter Jones, but they live next door to Rosanna who is a single mum and seems to live in a suburban terrace, and they also live on the same cul de sac as Deanne who works the tills in M&S, although mysteriously going to Deanne’s takes them past an off license while going to Rosanna’s doesn’t… I’m all for suspension of disbelief but these sorts of inconsistencies, which crop up quite a lot, just feel sloppy.

You what? You heard.

Once the four characters all get in a room they then proceed to go at each other unrelentingly for the next two hours. There is no character development, no change of tone and no release from the relentless and exhausting repetition. At one point, one of the actresses forgot her line and the ensuing silence before she was forced to call for a prompt actually came as blessed relief.

You what? You heard.

This is a muddled mess of a work which does not offer any real insight. Themes and subplots are laboriously introduced only to be then dropped without trace. The writing is terribly flat: there is hardly a single line which sounds like it might ever be said by a real human being and some linguistic devices are overused to the point of frustration. The “You what? You heard.” formulation must have been deployed five times from different characters and there are other lines which feel like we’ve heard them before.

All of this relentless depression might be forgivable if any of the characters were a pleasure to spend time with, but it’s difficult to imagine a less sympathetic bunch of human beings, none of whom seem to have any redeeming features whatsoever.

All of which brings us to the last five minutes, which are unforgiveable and for which everybody concerned ought to be ashamed. Making a paying audience watch someone load the dishwasher in silence for minutes on end isn’t clever, it’s not meaningful, it’s not funny, it’s not metatheatrical or ironic, it’s not slice-of-life, it’s boring – much like the rest of this play. You what? You heard.