John, the hero of David Eldridge's new play, was eleven in 1984 when most of the action takes place. The playwright was born in 1973 and one hopes for his sake, that the events on stage are not entirely autobiographical.
This portrayal of the disintegration of a marriage and the impact that it has on an only son, impressively played by 13 year-old Lewis Chase, veers between the deeply shocking and the highly amusing.
M.A.D. cleverly balances the Mutually Assured Destruction of the world that was worrying youngsters like John in the early-Eighties with his own in-built version, as the nuclear powers that his parents represented for him met on their own explosive collision course. Throughout the play, all extraneous cultural references focus on these issues, even an episode of Only Fools and Horses.
Kelly, Lee Ross, is a market trader selling "high heels". He and his wife, the really excellent Jo McInnes as Alice, are having marital problems but what holds them together is a desire to ensure that John will pass his Common Entrance and get the public school education that they believe will make him happy and successful.
Alice is "mad with boredom" and as, she has ejected Kelly from the marital bed, he is equally unhappy and despite their best efforts, they both take it out on their son. When Alice takes Kelly's lecherous assistant, Luigi (played by Gerald Lepkowski) to bed, the destruction begins.
The critical scene occurs in the middle of the night when the wide-eyed John, having discovered his father's pornographic video, hides in a box. His parents follow him into the living room and have a blazing row, beautifully realised by sensitive director Hettie Macdonald. Unusually, the wife beating in this case is by the wife! Far more homes truths emerge than is wise for anybody and breakfast the next morning is a revelation in every sense.
The poor parents are condemned to contrition but also John's favourites meal, fried eggs with custard creams dipped into the yolks. At this point, the child has become father not only to the man but also the woman. He believes that he is the one who is holding the family together and shows epic bravery in his attempts to do so.
After a five-minute scene change enjoyed by almost everyone, and perhaps inevitably, accompanied by music from The Doves, the play moves on to the eve of Kelly's funeral 20 years later and a scene which adds little to the play. The overwrought and bitter John, now played by Daniel Mays, has his first meeting in twenty years with Luigi, the man that he blames his parents' unhappiness. After an awkward start, in the same way that his father had to, John finally grows up.
David Eldridge is a very talented writer and this is an excellent play. It successfully catches the unhappiness of an exceptionally intelligent eleven year-old, who is on the brink of puberty and struggling to hold his life together in the teeth of two different types of Mutually Assured Destruction.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher