The Retreat review at Park Theatre, London – ‘funny and cathartic’
Comedy writing duo Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong share an impressive CV – sketch writers for Mitchell and Webb, co-creators of the award-winning sitcoms Peep Show and Fresh Meat, collaborators on the hit 2010 satirical film Four Lions. The omens are good then, for Bain’s solo foray into playwriting.
The Retreat takes place entirely in a remote bothy somewhere in the Scottish mountains. Luke (Samuel Anderson) is a wannabe Buddhist monk, a former city boy who, with the help of fellow tantric trainee Tara (Yasmine Akram), has replaced drugs and prostitutes with meditation and chanting.
His karma is thrown off-kilter, though, by the arrival of his coke-sniffing, chain-wanking ringtone fanatic older brother Tony (Adam Deacon).
At 90 minutes straight through, Bain’s three-handed play is small, but not quite perfectly formed, lacking any real dramatic drive beyond its glib – but hugely cathartic – takedown of middle-class mindfulness.
Kathy Burke’s production delivers on the comedy front, though, at first in drips and drabs during its somewhat cack-handed exposition, but then in spades as it delves wholeheartedly into furious rows and family recriminations.
Anderson’s earnest Luke and Akram’s sly, dry Tara get a few chuckles, but the real comedy catalyst is Deacon. His Tony is a non-stop whirlwind of swear-words and smut, with a bravado as puffed-up as his jacket.
The biggest laughs come from his blunt attacks on Luke’s holier-than-thou hypocrisy, and his withering, wide-boy scorn for Tara’s half-baked hippie rhetoric. It isn’t particularly deep, but The Retreat has fun splashing in the shallows.