Rachel (Natalie Lessing) and Neal (Joseph Wilkins) look on as Richie (Dan Coffey) powders his nose
You can't help feeling sorry for work obsessed, neurotic Neal who means so well but really needs to learn to chill out. Best mate Richie's dependence on booze, pills and thrills is comic rather than vile here, a world away from his mortgaged-rather-than-married friends. His needy attempt to lure the lovely Rachel away from boring Neal by dangling a life of carefree adventurism in front of her are filled with pathos and fuelled by drink. She's a smart cookie, charming, fun and optimistic but that doesn't stop her succumbing to Richie's dubious charms to lighten the tedium, even though he can't get it up.
It would be easy for Richie to be a villain but he's played with an affable hopelessness that relieves him of the bad guy tag. His hapless lifestyle catches up with him, signalling that perhaps it's time to grow up whilst his overachieving friends find it's time to take life less seriously.
The three hander is played naturally, the simple set effortlessly serving as flat, hospital room and pub garden. Penhall's dialogue captures intoxicated pub banter and the complex complaints of young adults trying to find their place in the world perfectly. As Richie looms over Rachel and Neal's status quo, their rows exemplify the frustration of conflicting desires and worries within a couple, whilst Richie's refusal to take responsibility for himself veers from amusing to tragic.
Entertaining and relevant it's also a timely opening coinciding with Slow Down London, given its pertinent challenging of both the careerist lifestyle and the slacker vibe.
Love and Understanding is at the Courtyard Theatre, Old Street, until 17 May. Tickets £15/12.