“Do you ever question your decision to pursue a career in the care industry?”
Now this, this is the state of the nation. A country in denial about its alcohol habits, a caring profession stretched to breaking point and beyond, a society ill-equipped to deal with the problems that arise from both – Paddy Campbell’s Wet House forces a brutally uncompromising look at what we too often turn our heads away from. And though it is a first play based on his own experiences working in a wet house – a residential facility for the chronically alcoholic and homeless where they can drink however much they want – its dramatic construction, mordant humour and stunning character work clearly mark Campbell as one to watch as Max Roberts’ production so skilfully shows.
He plunges wet-behind-the-ears new graduate Andy into the murky waters of Crabtree House, such a hostel somewhere in the North East, with just the soggy good intentions of Helen and the eviscerating bone-dry wit of Mike to help keep him afloat. As Andy tries to become accustomed to the working practices of caring for people who, on the face of it, can’t or won’t be helped, the appalling truth of how much this work demands bobs into view and the coping mechanisms necessary, shocking as they may seem, perhaps that little bit more justified. It’s a testament to the veracity of the writing that this equivocation feels utterly, completely earned.
And in the hands of Chris Connel, the character of Mike emerges as one of the most devastatingly effective and intensely performed of the year. Mike’s a man who really fills the space around him – when siting his legs spread wide, when standing his shoulders jut menacingly, either way you wouldn’t want to bump into him in the pub and yet he’s exactly the guy who’ll end up at your table, unwilling to leave you alone. Darkly, bleakly funny, this former squaddie’s military toughness is both a blessing and a curse to his daily dealings with the drunks as the arrival of a convicted paedophile alters the balance of the tough love he metes out with appallingly vicious consequences. Yet Connel never lets us forget there’s more to him too, one of his final actions in the play is almost unbearably moving to watch.
Joe Caffrey brings an unflinchingly raw honesty to painfully comic resident Dinger, many around me laughed at most every utterance but for me his story was pure, deep tragedy writ large in every single uncontrollable shake; Jackie Lye imbues Helen with a beautiful innate goodness that is at once just right and yet so wrong for the situation; and Riley Jones’ soon-jaded Andy is highly relatable as he’s buffeted around and moulded by the forces around him – humanity in all its flawed perfection flows from all. And as you leave the theatre, past the heaving bar full of people drinking, past the untold Soho street corners occupied by the homeless, I defy you not to look at them just a bit differently – this is theatre to change the way you think.