Review – Ingredient X – Royal Court

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Last night was the opening night of the new show at the Royal Court, Ingredient X. The play was billed thus:

“I’ve always said I’ll stop just as soon as The X Factor stops. The X Factor stops I stop that’s the deal.”

It’s Saturday night and the judges are gathering for their prime-time slot, feeding the nation their weekly fix. Except the harshest critics are sitting on your sofa and the mute button doesn’t seem to work. A tough new comedy about addiction.


Okay, I admit, I must not have been paying attention. See, what I thought this play was about was TV addiction, a topic I’ve been fascinated by for years, ever since I walked away from the boob tube in my teens. Picture me, in my college years, with my “Just Say No … to Television” shirt, and then the me of today, living in a TV free household (no matter how little the licensing authorities want to believe it). Yet I am surrounded by a society that oozes television out of every pore. This is especially frustrating to me as a theater goer, because all of the time I hear about some “new talent” who’s actually a TV “star,” which to me is about as meaningful as hearing that they won the blue ribbon for watermelon pickles at the Johnson County Fair. People are obsessed with television, they organize their life around television, they think the people on it are somehow important and that what happens on a TV series matter.

I find this madness comes to a height with the so-called talent reality shows. After reading Ben Elton’s “Chart Throb,” I now believe they only exist to wind people up enough to actually want to make a paid phone call to influence the outcome of the serie, thus leading to buckets of cash being delivered to the series’ producers. Does Britain Got Talent? Sure, but what the TV shows have is grabby hands going for people’s opened wallets. How can the TV viewing public not see how horribly they’re being scammed? And they keep going back for more, year after year! This, I thought, was the addiction Ingredient X was going to tackle head-on – the numbing deadness caused by excessive viewing of reality television.

If it’s not already clear, I was totally wrong. This show is about bog-standard substance type addiction, cocaine, booze, what have you. It’s set in what felt like (but was too fancy to be) a council flat somewhere north of London, where Frank (James Lance) and Katie (Indira Varma, too beautiful for the role) are hosting an X-Factor party for Katie’s friends Rosanna (Lesley Sharp) and Deanne (Lisa Palfrey). All of them seem fairly poor, with at least two kids each, and a lifetime of bad relations with men behind (or in front of) them.

Rosanna, harsh and angry throughout most of the play, is the most lively of the characters, but after about twenty minutes, listening to her hassle everyone and be cruel lost its charm. Deanne comes off as ditzy, but almost entirely forgettable except for her one big speech about alcoholism. I felt like I was trapped at a party with people I really wanted to get away from, and was unable to engage my “suspension of disbelief” enough to actually imagine why Katie let these cretins in her house to abuse her and badmouth her boyfriend. I was briefly excited at the beginning of act two when Frank looked like he was going to take Rosanna off and actually kick her out of the flat; but no. We were stuck with all four of them for another full hour.

Despite the realistic nature of the dialogue of this play, I found it pointless (perhaps preaching was its point, but that’s not why I go to the theater), lacking in dramatic tension while full of unpleasantness. It seemed to be a set-up for each of the characters to monologue about their own addiction issues, but not in a way I found particularly compelling. In fact, when Frank was talking about “walking down that path with my dad,” I completely checked out and had a “I am watching actors reading lines” moment. It’s a bad sign. It wasn’t quite bad enough to walk out on, but it was absolutely and positively not worth watching, unless you enjoy watching small people make each other look smaller, only not in a particularly witty or interesting way. Or perhaps you want to take someone to a show to help them understand just what it is that makes an alcoholic and what a much better person they’d be if they went to meetings.

I expect this show will reappear in cut up form as character studies for actors, and might be performed for groups who want to present plays about addiction, but as a play for a person who wants an evening to enjoy art, it’s eminently missable. Ah well, Royal Court, we shall meet again, because I do really support the creation of new play, and I’m sure we’ll return to the “win some” side of the balance sheet soon enough.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 20th, 2010. Ingredient X continues through June 19th at the Royal Court, though if I were you I’d try to get tickets for Sucker Punch instead.)

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2 Responses to “Review – Ingredient X – Royal Court”

  1. Interval Drinks Says:

    I thought that was a pretty spot on assesment. This was two hours spent in th company of some pretty unlikeable people who didn’t seem to interact with each other in any recognisable way. There were also, as you say, a number of moments where the performers simply seemed to be reciting lines.

  2. Review – Oscar Wilde’s “Salome” – Richmond Theatre (then Hampstead) « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] singular chance to hear the worlds of Oscar Wilde spoken on stage (and the others were the abyssmal Ingredient X and bad-unto-farce Paradise Lost). A live production of Salome this was but it’s hard to say […]

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