“You’re addicted to addicts…”
The latest play to open upstairs at the Royal Court is Nick Grosso’s Ingredient X, described as a “tough new comedy about addiction” and his first new play in 10 years, and one featuring the incredibly hard-working Lesley Sharp already in her third major role of 2010 after The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and Ghosts.
Katie’s invited her friends Deanne and Rosanna round to watch X-Factor in their swish apartment with her partner Frank, a recovering drug addict. The women take pleasure in treating him like a skivvy, sending him out on random errands for their wicked amusement. But when he disappears for more than half an hour, doubts about his whereabouts and the strength of his recovery creep in and Deanne and Rosanna, themselves haunted by their own failed relationships and their own insecurities, waste no time in antagonising Katie, playing on her inherent fears about Frank’s possible relapse.
The best performance of the night comes from Lesley Sharp as the embittered Rosanna, displaying great control of some viciously barbed speeches, toying dangerously with her more fragile friends but not quite able to conceal her own brittleness at being unable to detach herself from her ex’s travails. She is well matched for laughs by Lisa Palfrey’s Deanna who provides a neatly comic turn, but less successful when saddled with a heavy-handed clunky monologue about her struggles with alcohol. James Lance as recovering drug addict Frank and Indira Varma as Kate his co-dependent partner are well-matched as a couple, gingerly exploring the limits of their trust for each other and testing the strength of their relationship.
The idea seems to be that everyone is suffering from an addiction of one form or another whether it is reality tv, drugs, marrying addicts, alcohol, obsession with ex-partners, even video games, but in allocating one addiction per character, it doesn’t have the necessary cohesion for a strong theatrical piece. As a whole, it ends up feeling undramatic and a little disjointed, like a set of monologues with some scant connecting material.
It also has the uneasy feeling of something being off on several levels. Would these three women really have been such good, long-lasting friends, and could they honestly say that Varma had really lost her looks? Where do they all live, a suburban cul-de-sac is mentioned, but it feels like we’re in a loft conversion. There’s the suggestion of Frank’s OCD which makes sense in terms of him needing to control his life in order to manage his addiction but this is only done through his ordering of the tv remotes, it really does need to be much more obvious for it to be meaningful. And even something as simple as the publicity, which focused heavily on the links to reality television, The X-Factor in particular, ended up being really quite misleading and thus annoying as my expectations were really quite different.
The set does actually has a nice organic feel to it, the apartment has been constructed using the walls of the theatre so there is a satisfying permanence about it which makes it feel like a real living room, not an inconsiderable feat in the small space upstairs at the Royal Court and the lighting was effectively used especially in the scene changes. But despite a particularly fine performance from Lesley Sharp, Ingredient X does end up being somewhat of a disappointment. Not quite funny enough, not sufficiently engaging and somewhat unsure of what it is trying to say: ultimately it is just underwhelming.