You’d think as an American that I’d like my theater to be all Hollywood, happy endings and mindless entertainment. But it’s not so. Although I don’t like blood and violence, I do like plays that are hard, that don’t have happy endings, that may deal with, shall we say, uncomfortable subjects. And Pests, at the Royal Court, is exactly that kind of play. The one liner I had (spoiler free, I think), was that it was about two sisters in a dysfunctional relationship, and that it was really good. It was hard, hard work as an audience member, and it left us with more questions than answers. But it was decidedly excellent, not just for plot and acting but frankly amazing language use. I say this as a warning that I shall now spoiler the rest of the play so I can have some fun talking about said questions.
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS! TURN AWAY UNLESS YOU WANT TO KNOW IT ALL OR HAVE SEEN IT AND DON’T CARE!
Part of the reason I was so impressed by this play was its head on, authentic depiction of heroin addiction. Pink (Sinead Matthews), the older sister, is delusional, occasionally violent, and extremely driven … to do the wrong things. And her brain now has fucked wiring, whether caused by junk or other things isn’t certain, but it makes her behavior even more erratic. We’re handily clued into this by a creeping flickering that is projected on the stage as her sanity wavers. I could see in her highs (manic and sleepy happy junk induced) and lows (oddly never questioning her life) the same brain patterns I once saw in the junkies I knew in the arts scene in Phoenix. In a play, this knocked me flat. (Now, mind you, even with fake bruises and scabs, Sinead Matthews was too clean and healthy looking to be a real junkie living in the kind of situation depicted, but no reason to be too, too accurate.)
But what I loved even more about this play was the amazing relationship between the two sisters. When Pink and Rolly (Ellie Kendrick) first see each other, there’s a burst of kinetic energy that reads as aggression, full of swearing and tussling as it is. But the dynamic proves to be loving despite the fake scuffles. Or is it? Watching the two of them over the course of the play, it begins to seem that if anyone suffers from their toxic existence – and Pink goes for robbery and GBH as well as her stock in trade prostitution – it’s the sisters themselves, ruining their own lives and each other’s. At the end of the play, I expected to see sororicide …and my partner was sure it had happened.
As ever, I find seeing plays where the lives of the characters seem to exist before and after the moments where I am actually watching them exhilarating, and the mark of truly fine writing. Pests is such a play, and at the affordable Royal Court, it is a must-see.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, April 5th, 2014. It continues through May 3rd.)