The Royal Court Theatre presents
By Brett Neveu
21 October - 13 November 2010
Jerwood Theatre Upstairs
Tickets: £15, Mondays all seats £10.
“Me, Greg and Shane and Jason have been comin’ to this race since high school, no tents or anything back then. We’d just sleep in our clothes on blankets on the ground. Look up at the stars. Get high. Get drunk. Get wild.”
‘Red Buuuud!’ rings out across the camp as five friends gather in ritual homage at the annual Motorcross championship. Greg used to ride with speed and style, but this year he brings his pregnant wife instead of his bike. Times have changed. As they relive past glories, the haze of beer and smoke can’t disguise their fading friendship.
A new American drama about the creeping spread of middle age.
Chicago-based writer Brett Neveu’s play Eric LaRue was at the RSC as part of their New Work Festival in 2005. This is his Royal Court debut.
Director Jo McInnes other credits include The Verdict on BBC1 and the world premiere of Marine Parade, a new play by Simon Stephens.
Age guidance 14+
£10 Mondays sponsored by French Wines
Select a Date
Dates in October
|Thu 21 Oct 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Fri 22 Oct 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Sat 23 Oct 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Mon 25 Oct 2010||7:00pm||Press Night||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£10|
|Tue 26 Oct 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Wed 27 Oct 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Thu 28 Oct 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Fri 29 Oct 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Sat 30 Oct 2010||4:00pm||Saturday Matinees||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Sat 30 Oct 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
Dates in November
|Mon 1 Nov 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£10|
|Tue 2 Nov 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Wed 3 Nov 2010||7:45pm||Post-Show Talk||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Thu 4 Nov 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Fri 5 Nov 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Sat 6 Nov 2010||4:00pm||Saturday Matinees||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Sat 6 Nov 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Mon 8 Nov 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£10|
|Tue 9 Nov 2010||7:45pm||Captioned Performance||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15. For captioned seats call 020 7565 5000 or email email@example.com|
|Wed 10 Nov 2010||4:00pm||Mid-Week Matinee||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Wed 10 Nov 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Thu 11 Nov 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Fri 12 Nov 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Sat 13 Nov 2010||4:00pm||Saturday Matinees||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
|Sat 13 Nov 2010||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs||£15|
Sold out Performances
3 stars Time Out, November 2, 2010
Brett Neveu’s play about a bunch of deadbeat Michigan buddies exactly captures the beery, honking, pack-cry of dumb American despair. It’s clear from the moment they show up at their annual motocross festival outing that they don’t like each other much. It’s shared habits – drinking, spectator sports and fucking each other over – that keep them dragging away at the roach-end of their schoolboy friendship.
Neveu’s play lurches dangerously through put-downs and packs politics to the inevitably violent end. But despite the authentic hum of stale booze and bitterness, it’s crucially short on compassion – and illumination. You do need one or two sparks of hope and love, if only to show up the middle-aged soul in all its vast encroaching darkness. Here, group scapegoat Bill (Trevor White) is the only one who has anything going for him: his job as a fireman – and the fact that he’s ‘doing a 19 year old’, the nubile Jana (Isabel Ellison), who shows up at this year’s reunion and gets everyone mad. But White makes it painfully clear that Bill’s niceness is weakness. Greg, once the group’s daredevil leader, is weighed down by a dismal job and a heavily pregnant wife who brings him no joy. Peter McDonald play’s him superbly, as a hardman who is visibly clenching himself together around his inner void, but whose emptiness will consume him. Joe McInnes’s production boasts fine performances from an ensemble that can do much more than burp on cue. 4 stars MusicOMH, Daniel B. Yates, November 1, 2010
To take a dim anthropological longview, sometime it’s fun to think of theatre as a cave-dwelling for the middle classes.
Places in which homo bourgeoisitus collect, sheltered from the elements, to huddle round and mutter. Caves have long been suitable for generating mystery, symbolic spaces for the residing of monsters and angels, and from the mysteric cults of antiquity to Catholic church to the Freemasons, their darkness a home of ritual activity. Here homo bourgeoisitus marks memories, negotiates with the geology of the space to animate their petroglyphs in the caverne partipante as one anthropologist called the theatrical symbolic unity of the cave.
A place where puppet shadows on the wall are broken by the occasional rays of sunlight, the odd sacred cow is slaughtered, the odd genital is loosened from its fur. One thing about cave cultures is that they are typically not diverse. Indeed sometimes a foreign body wanders in that poses an immediate threat to the settled habitats and mores of the dwellers.
The Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs is certainly reminiscent of a cave tonight, a fire burns in the middle of the room, rudimentary camp sites are dotted around. The only giveaway perhaps is the gleaming pickup truck parked at a reckless angle. A group of party animals have rolled up at Red Bud, a race event in the dusty American plains, as they have for 21 years previous, looking to continue the party long into their thirties. Except life is catching up with them, and the exuberant fire of youth that made the party so central to their lives has mutated, into something darker and more violent.
Some notes on homo bourgeoisitus: Of regulated and regular habit, excess is surplus and does not fit with recycling of plastic bottles, abandonment is loss of control, civility and thinking responsibility are cultural keystones, treading drunkenly on camping equipment is not to be tolerated. Red Bud steps into the cave, and seriously upsets the locals. As these bluecollar characters of North American drinking culture are not just any innocuous wino to be hurried past in the street, but the keg-guzzling, pipe-hogging, pregaming, beer pong playing, circle-jerking, poly-drug-abusing, nacho-shattering, civility-battering, rutting and howling – in short, dudus partayicus.
For much of the play these glorious neanderthals party like its 1999 BC, causing such marked affront to the audience you would have thought someone had threatened their evolutionary status with a stick. In some ways they had: a stick is indeed wielded, a campsite is trashed, a leg catches fire, beer is shotgunned, a man is urinated on. Everything that youth and working class culture would do to nice domesticity if they leaked out of the news footage of towncentres and into the suburbs on a Friday night. But most threateningly of all is surely the dull monotonous calls of “REEDBUUUUD” answered by disembodied voices offstage, a restricted roar, a terrifying affirmation of mindlessness, a monosyllabic community of joyful numbskullery. When concordant arcs of golden spray from one of the many shaken and chugged beer cans landed in the laps of a particularly sour-faced couple in the front row, their look of vitriolic distaste was worth the ticket price alone. If the actors can do that every night they will have turned in a string of bravura performances, it was as if you can hear the tutting all the way from the tidy barbecues of Budleigh Salterton.
Brett Neveu’s script successfully nuances the drinking ritual, its grunting macho pop-eyed challenges and formal rules, while retaining a firm handle on the character’s growing distance from the Dionysiac fray. The pathos that age and resentment brings to the party is thoroughly delivered by the winsome eager Hywel Simons as Jason, a particularly troubled manchild, and the simmering square-jawed rage of Peter McDonald as Greg, whose culminating monologue is a note perfect exercise in self-savagery. The script might not quite get to the nub of the class destiny it sketches, doesn’t quite tell the whole story of how the party cannot withstand everything that is placed upon it, but as a snapshot of joyful pathology it is terrifically observed. As Rabbie Burns once noted, “partying is such sweet sorrow”, and he didn’t even have a beer-bong, an easy 19 year old and a lifetime of failure in the mix.
Tonight the cavate theatre allowed in the primitives, and they exploded in a primordial swamp of booze. Ritual began in caves, indeed it’s impossible to think of higher culture without permanent settlement. The forgotten ethnologist Ratsel once contended, not unreasonably, that caves were the “germs of stone architecture”, those civil upright spaces so absent tonight. Red Bud is tremendous fun, a miniature tour-de-force of bluecollar Dionysiac energy and ragged bleakness. And while it might not be the mark of civilisation, neither is it, as the squeamish reaction tonight implied, the end of it.
3 stars Independent, Paul Taylor, October 28, 2010
The blue-collar pals in Brett Neveu’s new play have been gathering at this annual motocross championship in southern Michigan since they were high-school students. Partying on the campsite nearby has become a tradition of getting drunk, chilling out, reliving past glories, and engaging in those ritualised American group games that can look to the outsider more like a way of fending off intimacy than enhancing it. The cry of “Red Bud!” that always finds an echo from other revellers, is meant to express fun-loving high spirits but, with this lot, it increasingly sounds a note of desperation – a faking of what is no longer there.
Reunions are almost as regular a feature of stage drama as homecomings. They provide an excuse for assembling a motley crew of characters and for exploring the toll that time has taken on them. In sorting so much out in advance, they can also feel a shade too convenient as a format. Very well staged by director Jo McInnes, with the audience on three sides of a campsite, Neveu’s play – which is set on the 21st anniversary of these gatherings – vividly exposes the cracks in the camaraderie as middle-age creeps up on the frustrated circle, offering in the process, a pungent snapshot of disillusioned blue-collar America.
Indeed, one of the weaknesses of the piece is that the tensions are overt from the outset and the bunch of buddies so far gone in mutual resentments that it’s hard to imagine a time when they rejoiced in one another’s friendship. And what can barely be conceived can scarcely be lamented. The once alpha-male of the party, Greg (superbly played by a brooding Peter McDonald) arrives already grim-faced with discontent. He used to be a daredevil rider, but this year he has left his bike at home and brought instead his pregnant wife. We are left to infer that impending fatherhood, relatively late in life, has caused him to unravel; precisely why, though, is left under-explored as we watch him treat his spouse (Lisa Palfrey) appallingly and lurch towards drunken self-destruction.
It doesn’t help that you’d have to be a saint to warm to these people. The two losers – Jason (Hywel Simons), an unemployed lawn-chemical worker, who has had to sell off everything including his tent, and Shane (Roger Evans), a social worker ignominiously demoted after the accidental death of a child in his care – take needling pleasure in trying to undermine one another. Much mocked for his comparative responsibility, fireman Bill (Trevor White) has reverted to embarrassing cliché by having a 19 year-old blonde, Jana (Isabel Ellison) – a character who comes in handy as an audience for old stories but who is not sufficiently deployed to examine generational difference.
The dialogue is tangy; the ensemble acting terrific; and Jon Clark’s expressive lighting tapers eloquently as the proceedings veer into the emotional darkness of the tense, climactic drinking game. But the back story of the group’s shared past has no real texture or complexity in this 75-minute piece and so the intimations of tragedy feel unearned. The question Jana asks about the event could be asked of the play itself: “What’s the draw?” 3 stars The Times, Libby Purves, October 27, 2010
“Sometimes,” says the 19-year old waitress Jana, staring into the campfire, “it feels like the universe could turn all inside out and swallow you whole.” Late at night in the café she imagines that the candy bars and magazines and pizzas “are, like, space debris asteroids”.
Around her, middle-aged but equally stoned and drunk, her fellow campers agree with varying degrees of vehemence that “time is a f****ng wild ride”, that sometimes they feel cosmically small and yet, like, big. And that, hey, everyone’s going to die. Including the baby inside Greg’s heavily pregnant wife, who is growing increasingly irritated. In a priceless marital exchange Greg growls: “Stop fu****ng bitching!” and Jen replies: “I am not bitching, I am expressing my human displeasure at the situation.”
The row kicks off again.
The group of friends – four macho buddies running to seed, one with a wife and one with a teenage girlfriend – are camping round a pick-up truck on the fringe of a faintly audible motocross championship in Michigan. The men have been doing the “Red Bud” weekend since college, with beer and campfires and pranks and a chance to “get high, get drunk, get wild” and tear about on Greg’s motorbike. Only this year, what with Jen being pregnant, Greg didn’t bring it. And apart from the edgy married couple, there is a strain between wayward, jobless Jason ( a horribly convincing performance by Hywel Simons) and grumpy Shane, whose career has stalled after a tragedy.
Into this mix comes Bill’s teenage girlfriend Jana: a sexy, confident performance by Isabel Ellison in her first professional stage appearance. The script – profane, vigorous and clever – neatly shows how routine joshing insults slides into real enmity as male egos grind and clash round her. Dusk falls, the fire is lit, the hash piped passed, Jana raises the temperature with fewer clothes and a bottle of Jack Daniels. The jokes – it is at time s very funny – sour into nastiness and by the end of the 75 minutes the sandy, grassy stage campsite round which we sit is littered with empty cans, spilt beer, blood and, I fear piss.
Yet Brett Neveu’s script and Jo McInnes’s direction keep humanity beneath the profanity: it’s a slight piece, but cruelly observant about the way life wears you down. Billed as being about the loss of the American Dream, it mainly says that it is all very well getting high and disinhibited in a tent when you are young and fire, but risky in middle age. An awful warning to ageing festival freaks everywhere.
i paper, Paul Taylor, October 28, 2010
The pals in Brett Neveu’s new play have been gathering at this motocross championship in Michigan since they were students. Partying on the campsite nearby has become a tradition. The dialogue is tangy; the ensemble acting terrific; and Jon Clark’s lighting tapers eloquently as the proceedings veer into the darkness of the climatic drinking game.
Mon 25 Oct, 7:00pm
Sat 30 Oct, 4:00pm
Sat 6 Nov, 4:00pm
Sat 13 Nov, 4:00pm
Wed 3 Nov, 7:45pm
Tue 9 Nov, 7:45pm
Wed 10 Nov, 4:00pm
See the Dates & Tickets tab for all dates.