Step 9 (of 12) is an engrossing tale, a disturbing black comedy that constantly shifts between the macabre and the absurd. The play, written by the Offie-nominated Rob Hayes, follows Keith, a recovering alcoholic on the 12-step programme to recovery.
Hayes' script cleverly subverts what it means to repent, questioning the ideal of guilt and challenging the simplicity of a 12-step plan to redemption. Revisionism rules as facts are twisted to fit Keith's deranged plea for clemency. It is a powerful piece, defined by a barbaric morality and punctuated with a rapier wit. The characters never settle; always agitated, ready to burst at any moment. Judith wants to leave; Alan wants to appease; but what does Keith really want?
The ninth step, as stated by Alcoholics Anonymous, is to make amends to people you have hurt in your past. In his front room – a disheveled and decrepit hovel – Keith asks for forgiveness from his foster parents. The director, Tom Attenborough, has created a production that brims with tension throughout. There is a visceral uneasiness from the moment we enter. Squeezed into Trafalgar Studios, spilling onto the stage; we – the audience – are also guests in Keith's living room.
The play marks the West End debut of Inbetweeners star Blake Harrison as the depraved protagonist Keith. Harrison shines in the comic moments, using humour to expose the character's immorality. However, it's Barry McCarthy's portrayal of Keith's foster father Alan which is the most poignant. It is a heartbreaking performance: a man failing to keep a lid on the boiling pot. Alan is desperate to be good, but he is battling against history and his wife's repressed anger: McCarthy captures this tragedy with precision and charisma.
The production is only 80 minutes long, enough time for the piece to simmer, seethe and explode. The horrors of Keith's past unravel, each more disturbing than the last. Step 9 (of 12), like its central character, is one that appals and delights in equal measure.
Step 9 (of 12) runs at Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY until 26th May. Go here for more information. Tickets are selling well so book soon to avoid disappointment. Picture by Mike Lidbetter.