We love new writing. We love it even more when a London writer whose work we’ve been following steps up a level: in the same way as David Eldridge’s remarkable In Basildon won him fresh respect at the Royal Court, Rikki Beadle-Blair’s newest script Gutted edges him alongside Mark Ravenhill or Steven Berkoff in the list of 21st century British playwrights.
His 2011 Shalom Baby was well enough received but Gutted might almost have been written by a different hand – it has so much more authenticity and universality in the structure and dialogue, and wholly realistic dimensions to almost all the characters.
Residents of a Bermondsey estate, the proudly chavvy Prospect brothers are differentiated, in their mother’s words, as “one mental, one thinks he’s the bloody Ayatollah, and one lives in the f*cking twilight zone” whereas the firstborn is a reserve footballer for Millwall and the apple of the maternal eye.
Alarmingly, he’s also been bumming his three bruvs, having been abused himself as a boy. There’s a lot of tabloid psychology in this play, exploring the theory that victims of violence will be violent themselves, and the abused become abusers, but the ungloved tenderness with which the abuse is handled, and the honesty with which it is exposed are unparalleled in contemporary writing. That a play with such intense themes also manages to be a fine comedy is simply tremendous.
The acting complements the writing with equally high standards: as the eldest Matthew, James Farrar travels the longest dramatic arc of self-discovery and his eventual breakdown is deeply affecting. Frankie Fitzgerald is excellent as Mark, whose marriage to a Jamaican girl has brought out both the gangsta and the loving parent in him, and Ashley Campbell delivers two standout performances as an edgy cellmate and the transsexual girl who tames Jamie Nichols’ impeccably taut cocky Luke.
Louise Jameson has less to do as the mother, apart from hug the boys occasionally and smoke pensively in prison and hospital corridors, but she adds considerable substance and style to the cast. When she speaks out, it’s impressive but a little disjuncted from the rest of the piece even though she’s indisputably the authorial voice in the play.
This is a writer whose time has come. One of the best legacies Nicholas Hytner could leave the National Theatre is a Post-It note on his successor’s desk with Beadle-Blair’s phone number.
Gutted continues at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 25 May. 16+ advised. Tickets £6 to £21, less for concessions. Call the Box Office on 020 8534 0310 or book online through the theatre website. JohnnyFox received a complimentary ticket from the theatre PR team.