sun 23/06/2024

Red Bud, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs | reviews, news & interviews

Red Bud, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Red Bud, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Brett Neveu's drama of beer, machismo and motocross speedily runs out of gas

Forever young? Shane (Roger Evans) and Jason (Hywel Simons)Simon Kane

They drink, they swear, they get high, they play air guitar: but it all looks a little sad, and more than a little desperate, when the red-blooded, all-American dudes involved are middle-aged, with the beer guts and the emotional baggage to match. This new play by US writer Brett Neveu is a noisy riff on disillusion, ageing and the hollow promise of the American Dream. It’s a little over an hour long, and it’s fine as far at it goes.

The trouble is, for all the flair of Jo McInnes’s well-acted production, for all its blood, booze and testosterone and all its noisy revving, it never really grinds its gears out of neutral.

Jason, Bill, Shane and Greg have been coming to Red Bud – an annual Michigan motocross rally – for 20 years. Women have come and gone, there’s been bloodshed and bad behaviour; it’s a tradition they’ve observed with ritual dedication. This time, festivities are off to a bad start. Greg has failed to bring his bike, the posse’s habitual cruising mayhem machine. His wife Jen is heavily pregnant and a conspicuous party-pooper; while Bill - who, despite his macho job as a firefighter, is generally regarded as the pussy of the group - puts everyone’s nose out of joint by turning up with Jana, a loose-limbed, highly sexed 19-year-old blonde. What has always been an annual orgy of excess and male bonding inevitably turns nasty, as decades of suppressed resentment, rivalry and bitter disappointment comes spilling forth in a foaming, acidic spew of Jack Daniel's, Budweiser and bile.

It’s a pretty dispiriting spectacle, and Neveu is hardly penetrating, either on the withering advance of age in a youth-obsessed culture, or on the corrosion of the ideal of the land of opportunity. Where this world premiere scores is in the detail of McInnes’s staging, and the strength of the performances.
Tom Hadley’s design makes you smell the churned-up turf, the petrol and the campfire. Trevor White as the toe-curling try-hard Bill gazes at Isabel Ellison’s pulchritudinous Jana with a mixture of wonderment and terror, helpless in the face of her flagrant sexuality, and quivering, unsure whether to cry or come, as he tries to second-guess her next dangerously unpredictable move. Hywel Simons as Jason and Roger Evans as Shane, both diminished by workplace catastrophe, smoulder with quiet misery.
The unhappiness of Peter McDonald as Greg, though, is the most toxic; and it is he who pitches most spectacularly into disaster, while Lisa Palfrey as his appalled wife – who makes pitiful and unsuccessful attempts to be, in turn, one of the boys and a bossy matriarch – looks on in horror. Indeed, an ugly spike of misogyny thrusts its way through the puerile boyish banter of men who still use phrases such as “that blows” and “fuck a duck”. This is Lord of the Flies for fortysomethings – and as Neveu envisions it, that ain’t a pretty picture. Nor, unfortunately, is it an especially illuminating one.
  • Red Bud is at the Royal Court Theatre, London, until 13 November
  • Find Brett Neveu on Amazon
Neveu is hardly penetrating, either on the withering advance of age in a youth-obsessed culture, or on the corrosion of the ideal of the land of opportunity

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