09 November 2017
The Retreat by Sam Bain
The Park Theatre
reviewed by Adam McCormack.
Have you ever really wanted to get away from it all; to cleanse yourself of all emotional baggage? Luke (Samuel Anderson) is attempting to do just this by entering a three-month Buddhist retreat in a remote part of Scotland – and he really does have a lot of baggage. Despite a successful, high-earning career in the City, his world has imploded. Luke has gone off the rails, losing his job and his partner, and has decided that there is no going back. He has resolved to sell his expensive flat and give all of the money to the organisation running the retreat. However, two factors stand in the way of this. First, his manipulative, profane and obnoxious older brother Tony is determined that he returns to London. Is this because he fears losing the only close family member he has, given that they were orphaned some years ago, or is it because he is entirely dependent on Luke for giving him somewhere to live? The other issue surrounds Tara (Yasmine Akram) who runs the retreat: is she really interested in Luke’s spiritual well being or just after his money – without which the centre will fail? We also have to question Luke’s motivations, given that he is clearly attracted to Tara.
Fans of Peep Show will know that Sam Bain writes exceptionally funny dialogue and he does not disappoint in this new play. He captures all of the modern twists of existential angst, with three very talented actors (under the direction of Kathy Burke) delivering crackling dialogue with perfect comic timing. Given this, it seems strange to say that the production does not quite work. The storyline is promising, with a lot to say about modern stress and dependency, but one is left feeling that the message would be better explored as a sitcom. There is so much to fit into a 90-minute one-act play that there is barely time to consider the relevance of the banter before the storyline gallops ahead of itself. The characters of Luke and Tony get a reasonable examination, but brevity leaves that of Tara as somewhat 2-dimensional, despite Akram’s admirable efforts. Nevertheless, it still makes for a highly entertaining evening, with no shortage of laughs.