Spur of the Moment
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
The Royal Court has a reputation for presenting challenging plays and courting controversy, especially in the smaller Upstairs space.
18-year-old debutante Anya Reiss is reputedly the youngest person to have a play staged in a London theatre, having been only 17 when it was written. The main competition comes from Andrea Dunbar of Rita, Sue and Bob Too fame, who started The Arbor at 15, though it took another four years to reach the stage, also at the Court..She has created a 100 minute drama that might shock even hardened devotees of the theatre, thanks to a central theme of underage love.
In fact, Spur of the Moment holds back and attacks the issue with the softness of soap opera, not always helped by its determination to replicate reality in all of its tedious glory.
Every one of the members of this household in the stockbroker belt is mired in misery. They also love their clichés.
In Sesame Street terms, the play might have been brought to us by the word "sorry", so often is it uttered by every one of the five residents.
The problems started when dad, Kevin Doyle's weak Nick, had a four-month fling with his ugly, older boss who happens to share a name with his tearful wife, Vicky, played with great conviction by Sharon Small. To make matters worse, he lost his job and is now a frustrated, penniless house-husband.
Their 12-year-old daughter Delilah loves High School Musical and Harry Potter and can't wait to be a teenager. She is even able to pour a little oil on troubled familial waters.
The joker in the pack is James McArdle as the family's lodger Daniel, a handsome Scottish student as symbolically and biblically named as the teeny seductress, in his case waiting to be judged in the Surrey lion's den.
He becomes a pawn in the parental battle but more worryingly the subject of Delilah's childish fantasies.
Despite the attentions of his visiting girlfriend, Daniel, who, like everyone on the stage suffers from a serious inferiority complex, allows matters to get out of hand, letting the little girl lead him on and then responding with a kiss that is far from chaste.
Unhappiness reigns, as the young man repeats the older one's guilty line: "This is the worst thing that I have done in my life".
The acting is generally good and under Jeremy Herrin's direction Shannon Tarbet, making her first ever professional appearance as Delilah, has marked herself out as a star of the future.
Spur of the Moment is a real mixture, with some great moments of tension and comedy broken by formulaic writing. It sets out to shock but eventually the impact is more likely to be the realisation that deeply unhappy people wound each other. It is not always comfortable to be a fly on the wall in situations of this type, even when the walls are part of a two-story set brilliantly created by designer Max Jones.
While the play is far from perfect, since its writer has only just sat her A Levels, she may well have a big future in the visual arts though, on this showing, Anya Reiss might be better suited to TV than the stage.
Playing until 14 August
Reviewer: Philip Fisher