Sobriety on the Rocks – Bread and Roses Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer: Renee Buckland

Director: Tadeas Moravec

Richard is an alcoholic and has no intention of changing that: he likes how it makes him feel. His wife Cherie and son Jamie have developed their own coping mechanisms to live with his alcoholism, even though it affects them in ways both small and expansive. But now Richard has collided with a jogger while drunk driving: she will never walk again, while he vows to keep on drinking.

All three family members – and Kimberley, the paramedic who attended the scene – are portrayed in this brisk, emotional piece of storytelling written and performed by New Zealander Renee Buckland. Each of the four characters is distinctively brought to life by Buckland, who uses accent, vocal tics and physical poise to clearly delineate her characters.

What comes through strongest is the love Richard’s family has for him despite everything he puts them through. Jamie is upbeat, despite having had to stop painting because his father used his works for drink mats and feeling utter shame when considering the prospect of bringing a girlfriend home. “At least he doesn’t hit me,” his wife says, in an overly cheery voice, but it’s one that suggests the mental toll is higher than she will admit. Another time, she talks about how if we accept alcoholism is an illness, it invites empathy: something she appears to not always believe should be the case.

Buckland’s progression from character to character keeps the pace up. Her acting is matched by her writing, which reveals both the family’s life and the details of the accident at an assured pace. Perhaps the most effective progression is in the paramedic role: Kimberley initially seems stand-offish, holding court about a well-known accident at which she was the first responder. But as we return to her that cocksure attitude ebbs away, revealing a very personal connection to the incident and others like it.

The opening sequence of Buckland performing a haka to a vodka bottle, signifying perhaps the relentless battle Richard and everyone like him has with alcoholism, risks tipping the piece over into a Kiwi stereotype, but it never outstays its welcome. Instead, Buckland’s writing and performing dominate.

The result is a captivating dissection of a family that has had to live with alcoholism for far too long, to everyone’s detriment. Sobriety on the Rocks is a powerful, engaging piece that encourages one to look beyond headlines. It is not only the alcoholic who has a fight with the bottle; those around them are drafted in to fight too. Buckland’s portrait of these reluctant warriors is a compelling one.

Reviewed on 22 July 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Compelling portrait of alcoholism

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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