ROSIE HEWITSON reviews Wet House, now showing at Soho Theatre.

Live Theatre Newcastle’s production of ‘Wet House’ is on at Soho Theatre until 16th November, having sold out its premiere run and been credited as one of The Guardian’s ‘Top Ten Plays of 2013’. New writing talent Paddy Campbell’s first full-length play centres around the day to day running of a ‘wet house’, a homeless hostel for vulnerable people in which the residents are allowed to drink alcohol.

The play begins with the arrival of a new recruit, Andy (Riley Jones), who joins the ‘psychopathic ex-squaddie’ Mike (Chris Connel) and the devotedly maternal Helen (Jackie Lye). These three employees are responsible for assisting the residents: Kerry (Eva Quinn), a young, pregnant alcoholic; Spencer (Simon Roberts), who has recently been released from prison; and Dinger (Joe Caffrey), who has been sleeping rough in the goat pen of a local petting zoo.

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Campbell’s writing expertly treads the line between comedy and tragedy. The first few scenes of the play feel deceptively like a sitcom, but the tone changes almost imperceptibly over the first act so that you find yourself laughing seconds before recoiling at the sheer appalling horror of these people’s lives. It is unsettling in the best possible way and exposes our disregard for the most vulnerable members of society. Campbell masters the audience’s mood so that we feel both heartfelt compassion and repulsion towards all of these characters, often simultaneously. It is a testament to the brilliance of his writing that most of the time you feel more empathy for convicted paedophile Spencer than you do for Mike the ex-squaddie.

The writing is brought completely to life by the cast, many of whom return to the roles they adopted during the play’s debut last year. All six of the actors are completely brilliant in their roles, with Joe Caffrey as the injudicious but endearing alcoholic Dinger, and Chris Connel as Mike, deserving special commendation.

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The second act perhaps dwells a little too long on the tragedy, so that it risks losing its impact. It is just as easy to see this as a deliberate effect which emphasises the relentless bleakness of these characters’ lives, however. Indeed, it does not detract from the play’s lasting effect and very clever ending, in which the employees of the wet house are exposed as being, in many ways, no better than the residents themselves.

This is a brilliant, touching play that will leave you laughing through tears; I definitely recommend it.

‘Wet House’ will be showing at Soho Theatre until Sunday 16th November, for tickets and more information please click HERE