Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Ingredient X

Nick Grosso
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
(2010)

Publicity image

Nick Grosso's Royal Court return, eight years after Kosher Harry, is a raw, intentionally voyeuristic exploration of the causes and consequences of addiction.

Ingredient X looks at the affliction from every angle. He takes in not only the obvious drink and drugs but also the theoretically more benign internet, video games and even The X Factor.

Grosso's self-imposed brief then goes beyond the wrecks that addicts make of themselves, considering the impact that they have on loved ones too.

The dramas play out in the comfortable, Ben Stones-designed kitchen of James Lance's calm, quiet Frank, a recovering addict whose only remaining addiction is to group therapy, and his wife Katie, played by Indira Varma.

Blocked writer Frank seems to have a full understanding of his problem and remains in control throughout, which is more than can be said for his trio of fortyish female companions.

With their black, red and blonde hair, it is all too easy to see them as the Witches of North London, each too easily prone to moments of often hilarious malice whenever another shows the slightest hint of weakness or they are attacked themselves.

Katie is well-adjusted, having just given birth to Bubba, a baby whose name is enough to make everyone onstage melt. However, her past is inescapable, as she is a "co-dependent" addicted to addicts, relishing the chance to support an underdog but paying a heavy price in personal insecurity.

Lesley Sharp is a marvel as Rosanna, a motor-mouth conspiracy theorist whose heart may be in the right place but who is constantly let down by her inexhaustible rants. Repeatedly, when her junkie ex-husband comes into the conversation, she attacks viciously and leaves bad feeling in her wake.

The final visitor is Deanne, Lisa Palfrey playing a neurotic Welshwoman who rarely engages her brain and refuses to accept that she has a drink problem, even after downing most of a bottle of rum and manically searching the kitchen for just one more drink.

Nick Grosso treats his subject sympathetically and has his own addiction, to worrying tirelessly at an idea until it is worn out. For the most part, this works well and, thankfully, he leavens the issues with much-needed humour.

While director Deborah Bruce gets the best out of all four cast members, she might have benefited from a few judicious cuts to the 2 hour 20 minute playing time. In particular, this occurs when her author gets a little too carried away, which means that at times the show can feel like a self-therapy session as characters appear to be expounding his views rather than their own.

Despite this minor criticism, Ingredient X is a brave play that takes on an important and sadly ever-topical subject and for that it deserves to be seen.

Playing until 19 June

Reviewer: Philip Fisher