Just 12-hours after the opening of Peter Quilter’sSaving Jason, there appeared in the national press a report of an inquest into the death of an 18-year-old girl who had gone to a music festival, downed a load of drugs and died of an overdose.
Apparently, her uncomprehending mum and dad sat in the court in floods of tears, listening to the details of how their lovely daughter lost her life for a good time and a quick high.
Quilter’s unorthodox black comedy really does hit all the right buttons. Parents think that childhood is difficult. Wait until the terrible teens. It gets worse.
So I fully understand Trevor and Linda’s last, desperate attempt, to shock their wayward 17-year-old, Jason, out of his invulnerability, and make him sober up to the effects of the drugs he keeps popping.
London’s Park Theatre is at the forefront of promoting new work and this play, now running in its smaller P90 space, is admirable.
But the laughs are occasional, rather than frequent, and the treatment of its subject perhaps not dark or satirical enough. At times its six characters feel like they’ve stepped out of a quaint, old-fashioned TV sitcom.
It’s also very familiar. The only thing new in this tackling of wayward and misspent youth is the original and very extreme idea for a cure. Would any of us go to these lengths? Surely a few shock videos from YouTube would do the trick.
It opens with choral music and preparations being made for a wake – only it turns out that the deceased isn’t cold in his grave, he’s out with his mates, throwing ecstasy down his throat – because life’s SO boring and he’s terrified of turning out like his middle-aged, dull and colourless dad.
“We want Jason to witness and experience his own mortality,” says Trevor. “We want this to be the thing that wakes him up. We thought that the funeral would make him see where it’s all heading”
Linda’s raided the shops for crisps, rolls and nibbles. “It’s not a very good buffet. It’s from Iceland and I forgot the scotch eggs” she admits.
The walls are decorated with photos of their son, a portrait sits on the table, in a gilt frame, adorned with two gold medals Jason got for schoolboy athletics. There are tealights all over the place and the worried couple have even had memorial cards printed.
Trev arrives with the booze – which he puts down on a table next to where I’m sitting. Should I help myself and help commemorate a life not lived? William Oxborrow’s Trevor comes and whisks it away before I have a chance to open the vino. Ah, well.
“We should have had a second child. Everyone has another one in case the first one breaks” says the anxious mum.
Linda’s outrageous, pill-popping sister, Angela, and her husband Derek (Cory Peterson) eventually turn up and, making an appearance whenever she can remember to, is neighbour Mary, who appears to be suffering from early onset dementia.
Finally, the guest of honour makes an appearance and he’s horrified. In the corner of the room is an urn filled with ashes (from god knows where) and American Derek begins to give a eulogy in a comedy accent borrowed from Father Ted.
Jacques Miché’s Jason does his best with the sort of dialogue you’d find in the popular press. He berates his parents for believing everything they read in the Daily Mail, drugs are safe if you know what you’re doing, his life is meaningless. Blah, blah, blah.
Then he plays the generation card. Here are five adults having a pop at him when they have issues of their own. Hypocrites, he rages. Why is it okay for some adults to drink to excess and then lecture their children on the evils of drugs? Why do others become hooked on happy pills prescribed from their GP? When has adultery ever been acceptable?
So there are a lot of issues here to get your teeth into. Julie Armstrong’s wonderfully OTT Angela is a force of nature who doesn’t give a damn about appearances. She follows the mantra of “do as I say not do as I do” as she cuts a memorable swathe through life at the expense of her marriage.
Tor Clark makes an admirable mum, Linda, and, together with Oxborrow, they present as a typical concerned middle-aged couple – with the exception of a few idiosyncrasies.
Paddy Navin’s nuanced performance, as neighbour Mary, makes the biggest impact as she juggles poignant moments of confusion with utmost clarity. Like a female Yoda she dispenses invaluable wisdom to the lost boy before her brain reaches for the off-switch and her mind slips silently away.
Darkly funny, thought provoking and shockingly current. Saving Jason runs at the Park Theatre until December 3.
"I am not naive about the dark side. It's worth the risk." Saving Jason is darkly funny, thought provoking and shockingly current.