Friday, October 2, 2015

'Flush' at the Etcetera Theatre, 30th September 2015

Though 11 years old, David Dipper's Flush has stood the test of time. Set in a contemporary London the play charts the tangled lives of some unpleasant young urbanites, all filtered through the prism of poker. The game is a constant presence; chips clattering across a coffee table and cards are shuffled and flipped. Quickly we realise that these characters are probing one another, searching for chinks in their emotional armour and exploiting them for all they're worth.

With a chronologically cut-up narrative and scant regard for the fourth wall, Flush encourages its audience to play detective. From the off we understand that dark acts lurk at the heart of the play, yet who they're committed by and to remains vague. None of the characters are very attractive people; being variously sweaty losers, sadistic lotharios, sociopaths or sadistically violent drug abusing headcases.

Regardless, these reprobates are the cards the audience is dealt, and we try our best to shuffle our hand into some kind of recognisable order. The constant spout of revelations act as the flop; working out who's fucking over whom and which character is going to end up as the chump. 

Despite the fact that we're gazing into a moral abyss, it's impressive how darkly funny these characters can be. Shane Wheeler's Charlie stands out as able to get away with saying the most brutal dialogue (for example, gleefully describing the rape and murdering a teenage) and getting a guilty giggle from the audience. Both character and performer successfully take refuge in audacity; his stories grow ever more perverse and bizarre the more we like him.

Also fun (though in a different way) is Grant Reeves' city boy Cupid. Without one word of dialogue we understand who is; his slicked back hair and chunkily expensive diver's speaking volumes. The character exudes predatory dangerousness, combining feline good looks with something cold and calculating. There's a scene where he reflexively seduces another character's girlfriend, successfully going through the motions as if it's just something he does.

All five actors eventually expose their character's dark hearts; all showing their hands as their secrets are splurged across the stage. It's all pretty compelling drama, if only to hear what atrocity they're going to concoct next. Sometimes there's a sense that this is being written to shock: a particularly eyebrow-raising moment being when one character is being needled by another about his unfaithful girlfriend, but reassures himself by "remembering when his sister got raped." Woah nelly! None more black! Mega-darrrrrk!

Moments like these belie a slight immaturity in the writing, but I don't really mind a punkish desire to rattle a few cages - at least the play never gets boring. Helping matters is that at a svelte 50 minutes the play zips along at a impressive rate. 

Consequentiall, there's little stagecraft involved and perfunctory set-design, but smart music design goes a long way towards creating atmosphere. To some, opening with almost the entirety of Smashmouth's mid-90s hit Walking on the Sun will say everything about the characters and events to follow.

Flush is a pretty damn good piece of fringe theatre and a promising debut for Break Point Theatre. It doesn't over-reach, doesn't waste the audience's time and has no qualms about morality and prudery. Best of all the show has the good sense to just let these actors have fun with their roles, all of whom are played with obvious relish. Not the most ambitious night of theatre about, but a worthwhile one nonetheless.


Flush is at the Etcetera Theatre until 4th October. Tickets here.

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