The Old Red Lion Theatre is a defiantly shabby theatre pub in Islington, though there’s nothing shabby about its latest production, The Fastest Clock In The Universe. Pin-sharp performances and slick direction make this revival of Philip Ridley’s multi-award winning 1992 play a taut, claustrophobic and extremely compelling experience.
The Captain is throwing a 19th birthday party for Cougar, though it soon becomes clear that the ritual is very far from a simple celebration of a young man getting one year older. Is Cougar really nineteen? What are his plans for the single guest he’s invited? And why is so he disturbed by clocks? It’s a strange and unpleasant story set in a stylised version of London’s East End, reminiscent of Pinter and Hitchcock, where a birthday party is very unlikely to turn out well.
The play references themes in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray while prophesying the rise of the modern metrosexual narcissist. Joshua Blake is electric as Cougar, a psychotic Fonz who peacocks his way through the first act (in nothing but shades and underpants) then simmers with gathering menace in the second. The reactions of the other characters create a weird web around this vain man-child, which tightens throughout the play until something has to break. All five actors impress, each one offering a semi-deranged yet psychologically-convincing portrait that ratchets up the tension and adds to the overall queasy richness of a memorable and thought-provoking chamber piece. This is superior pub theatre only heightened by the stale smell of Southern Comfort impregnated in the pub's carpets.
The Fastest Clock in The Universe is on at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 30 November 2013.
Londonist saw this play on a complimentary free ticket.