Writer: Paddy Campbell
Director: Max Roberts
Reviewer: Charlotte Broadbent
Wet House achieves that rare but beautiful balance of tenderness and grit. This new play from writer Paddy Campbell delivers incredible humour while never shying away from the darkness that resides within everyone and reminds us that things are not always as they seem. You may feel that a play about a homeless hostel where the alcoholic residents are welcome to drink around the clock may not make for an enjoyable experience, but this multi-faceted play has something that almost any audience member could identify with.
It is difficult to believe that this is the first full length play from writer Paddy Campbell. His ability to place the banal with the extreme and the domestic next to the tragic is both touching and raw. It could be that he draws from personal experiences which make this play so effecting, but there is something beautifully human and honest that makes it difficult to walk away unaffected. It’s easy to see how this new writer was awarded both the writer of the year and the performance of the year award in the 2013 Journal Culture Awards.
At the top of the play we are introduced to Mike (Chris Connell) and Helen (Jackie Lye), both long term employees of Crabtree House who are awaiting the arrival of new starter Andy (Riley Jones). Some big laughs early on help us to settle into what already feel like uncomfortable surroundings. It is with the introduction of Andy that we are quickly brought up to speed with the inner workings of the wet house (a homeless hostel where the alcoholics can drink round the clock) as told by the cynical Mike. Though we find ourselves safely in the staff only area, the constantly running surveillance cameras serve as a permanent reminder of the grim reality that awaits them.
The design is simple yet effective and attention to detail regarding stains etc. (best not to ask!) serve the brutal honesty of the text and performances. All set changes are undertaken by the staff of Crabtree House which helps us to empathise with their constant, thankless work in the wet house. Lye as Helen appeared to do the most table moving on her own which, while I’m sure was mostly a practical choice, certainly helps to drum up sympathy for the character of Helen.
The cast are simply stunning throughout; it’s difficult to single anyone out. Joe Caffrey’s interpretation of Dinger, the filthy yet loveable drunk is spectacular; he’s clearly a worthy winner of the 2013 Journal Culture performer of the year award. Connell’s portrayal of the sadistic Mike is chilling yet endearing and Simon Robert’s as Spencer the paedophile is subdued but incredibly powerful. Lye and Jones both give delicate performances as we see them gently unravel and Eva Quinn shows real dexterity and sensitivity with the pregnant, feral Kerry.
Campbell is relentless when making the audience consider who really is the ‘better’ man. Without being a morality play, we are presented simply with the reality and forced to acknowledge what we see there. He presents us with seemingly clear scenarios of right and wrong and dashes it to pieces before us. What is even more compelling, is that this doesn’t let up so that even in the final scenes our anger and sympathy is still in the balance. This ambiguity is what makes Wet Houseso very moving. By not giving us the easy option the audience is constantly trying turn the other cheek yet unable to look away.
The show has a long run ahead of it, in Newcastle until 11th October, followed by a five nights in Hull, then closing in London on November 16th. It could be that early days mean this production is still a little rough around the edges. Still, a very slick production and very much worth a visit.
Runs until: 11th October 2014
Photo Credit:Keith Pattison