The Motherf**ker with the Hat

Theatre, West End
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Lots of swears, lots of laughs, not much soul in this comedy about love and addiction

Stephen Adly Guirgis’s clunkily-censored ‘The Motherf**ker with the Hat’ was a f**king big hit on Broadway a few years back, thanks to decent reviews and the stage debut of that son-of-a-b**ch Chris Rock, as bulls**t-spouting AA councillor Ralph D.

Making her very welcome NT debut, director Indhu Rubasingham can’t compete with that sort of celebrity firepower for this enjoyable UK premiere. But she’s certainly scored a minor coup in prevailing upon Equity to allow her to cast all-American actors in this gleefully obnoxious comedy about love and addiction amongst New York’s Latin community.

The show’s anchor is Ricardo Chavira, who you may remember as bad-boy husband Carlos in ‘Desperate Housewives’. He’s the best thing here as Jackie, a recovering alcoholic who’s trying to piece his life back together after a spell in prison, but finds his restraint sorely challenged by his fiery, foul-mouthed girlfriend Veronica (Flor De Liz Perez) – who he suspects to be having an affair after discovering a man’s hat in their apartment – and his manipulative, jargon-spouting ‘patron’ Ralph (Alec Newman).

It’s essentially a comedy about addiction and the trials of staying clean, that goes light on the worthy stuff and heavy on the outrageous zingers (don’t take your nan, unless your nan is mad into swearing). Rubasingham rises to the occasion with a loud, sexy production in which the apartments and fire escapes of Robert Jones’s set glide slickly out of the darkness to blaring music.

I laughed a lot, and felt sympathy for Chavira’s battered Jackie, whose heart is indubitably in the right place, even as it leads him to do some entirely idiotic things. But his is the only restrained performance or halfway plausible character: elsewhere soul and depth are butchered at the altar of the bad-taste one-liner. Which would be fine if this were a Bruce Norris play, but you can see that Guirgis wants his characters to come across as relatably human under all the bluster. But the play doesn’t earn it, and when it ends on a downer with somebody in quiet tears, it’s hard to really give a s**t.



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