It could easily have been another hand-wringing saga about family abuse, but Rikki Beadle-Blair’s outrageous new play is positively Greek in its vision of incest in modern day Bermondsey. His shocking (yet hilarious) story centres on the four sons of an Irish father who abused and beat them before drinking himself to death. A footballer, a barrow boy, a loverboy and a latterday Muslim convert, the family are about as dysfunctional as it’s possible to be – with a hard-boiled mum silently looking on, smoking fags in a mink coat.
The great thing about Beadle-Blair’s play is his unconditional solidarity with his characters. There’s even a touch of Steven Berkoff in the demotic pleasure he takes in their Oedipal squalor. Working the C-word till its letters fall off, there is huge joy and vitality in his purple street argot. But Beadle-Blair’s supreme talent is for defying the expectations of both characters and audience, nowhere more so than in the relationship between the hard-bitten loverboy and the big black trannie he insists on dating.
There is fearless acting too with James Farrar as the alarmingly disturbed older brother burying himself in football, while Frankie Fitzgerald is a fabulously original ‘blackney’ barrow boy forever playing the clown. Jamie Nichols’s loverboy would come across as a dangerous psychopath if he wasn’t so cute or sincere, while Gavin McCluskey makes a pointedly soulful and gullible little brother. And there are great turns from Sasha Frost and Jennifer Daley as sisters enflaming the boys with psychological scars of their own.
The design is nothing more than a set of mirrors forcing us to look at ourselves, but it’s poorly accessorised with afterthought projections. Beadle-Blair should have stuck to writing and directing and got a designer to sort this out. He could also probably have cut the long, take-home moralising of the last scene. But, this remains an outlandish and genuinely challenging piece of work.