Theatre Review: What We’re Up Against

Seven short plays portray social portraits from American life that will have you in stitches - in WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington.

SEVEN plays sounds like a lot to squeeze into one 80minute sitting, a brain addling theatre banquet of too many courses. I thought so, but I was wrong.

What We’re Up Against, the UK premiere of seven short plays about contemporary America by Pulitzer Prize nominated playwright Theresa Rebeck, is a showcase of sharp scripts and fine acting.

Short scenes from American life are performed in revue format rather than full blown plot-led drama - think Alan Bennett Talking Heads-style sassy social portraits. The cast also display a real flair for character acting and comic timing.

Among the all-American figures held up to scrutiny are two masochistic whiskey-drinking male architects, a young couple of aspiring actors on a daytrip to the ocean, and a woman with a head-set hotline to God.

But the more original writing comes in good old-fashioned situational comedy, including a grieving son who is manoeuvred into comforting a funeral parlour attendant over his mother’s coffin. The comedy of life’s sometimes mystifying about turns is performed with sublime precision.

The Old Red Lion has won a well-deserved reputation for staging exciting new American writing in recent years. What We’re Up Against continues the tradition – and quite when you least expect it, it will have you in stitches.

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* Showing at the Old Red Lion Theatre, in St John Street, EC1 until Thursday, March 3.