Red Bud

Brett Neveu
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Red Bud publicity graphic

The topic of swearing in the theatre has been aired in the press recently in the context of Nina Raine's Tribes Downstairs in the same building.

If bad language offends, then Red Bud is probably not the play to go and see, since, depending on definitions, it gets through no fewer than 300 obscenities in a running time of only 70 minutes.

The language is however appropriate to context, which in a play about rednecks mourning the loss of their modest version of the Great American Dream, one might feel is the sole measure.

The drama certainly starts in spectacular fashion with the arrival of Hywel Simons' Jason on fire. It takes place on a grassy set embellished with campfire and truck, designed by Tom Hadley. This is an outpost of the Red Bud National Motocross Rally. For the uninitiated, this is an annual motorcycling festival that takes place somewhere not too far from Chicago.

For the 22nd consecutive year, five friends meet up around a campfire to enjoy the racing, relive their drunken youths and yell "Red Buuuuuuud" at the top of their voices every couple of minutes.

The catalyst for change is Jana, Isabel Ellison playing the spunky 19-year-old girlfriend of Bill (Trevor White). She is up for fun but inevitably gives the quartet of men of a certain age an urge to strut and perform, as well as offending pregnant Jen, Lisa Palfrey as the deposed belle of the ball.

In a strange way, Red Bud brings to mind both The Weir (which must be due for a revival) and Annie Baker's recent The Aliens at the Bush.

On one level, it explores existential angst through storytelling and, on another, American men who hide their midlife crises by playing childish games and ingesting vast quantities of intoxicants.

The fun grows exponentially while the beer and bourbon flow but gradually turns much darker as simmering depressions and rivalries get spectacularly out of hand.

There will be divided opinions about this second Royal Court show from Steppenwolf alumni in recent months after the wonderful Clybourne Park, which is already preparing for its West End transfer.

Director Jo McInnes guides a strong ensemble cast in a high octane performance. The pick is Peter McDonald as Greg, a former bike star struggling to come to terms with the mundanities of life. Even the knowledge that his wife is about to make him a father offers little solace with such a clear view of lost glories.

Red Bud will not be to everyone's taste and hasn't the strongest of plots but, even so, it is a joyride of a play that amuses and shocks in equal measure.

Playing until 13 November

Reviewer: Philip Fisher