Wednesday 8 November 2017

The Retreat @ The Park Theatre

The Retreat @ The Park Theatre

There's undoubtedly a fashion for mindfulness at the moment. And a bit of meditation each day can help to bring some inner peace. But a Buddhist retreat might be a bit too extreme for most people.

Except that's what the protagonist of The Retreat does, the first play from BAFTA award-winning screenwriter Sam Bain (Peep Show, Fresh Meat) and directed by none other than Kathy Burke. Luke (Samuel Anderson) is an ex-investment banker who, overcome with the stress of London life, turns to Buddhism for salvation when away at a festival, but whether he's truly inspired by Buddha's teachings or Tara (Yasmine Akram) the attractive Irish girl he meets there is another question entirely.

Luke's brother Tony (Adam Deacon), meanwhile, is his polar opposite. He works for Deliveroo, is obsessed with sex, and the only high he's after comes from white powder rather than spiritual enlightenment. Yet he arrives at the Buddhist centre somewhere in Scotland to interrupt Luke's "retreat" under the pretence of inviting him home for a funeral. In reality, he just wants his brother back.

Anderson and Deacon play Luke and Tony as a couple of boisterous teens. And really, they're both lost boys - in many ways the play is about a crisis of masculinity. But this is Luke's story, stuck between his old life of drinking, drugs and sleeping with prostitutes, and a new life of positive karma as a Buddhist monk - a push-pull between Tony and Tara. Which is the right path? Is there even a right path?

The Retreat poses many questions through its biting criticism of religion, parenthood, and the purpose of life. And there's plenty of ambiguity, the characters drawn in shades of grey where nobody has the answers. Yet Bain's script is ultimately bleak and cynical, without delving far enough into its themes. It's mainly just scepticism as surface level laughs, showing plenty of wit but lacking depth. The Retreat is about many things...but also nothing at all.

Nevertheless the cast gel well together to deliver some fun comedy, even if Deacon's character is given all the best punchlines. Akram's Tara is perhaps most interesting, a sort of smug know-it-all holier-than-thou type but with a subtle manipulative streak. Even with some pacy performances and Burke at the helm, though, it all feels a bit inert and one note - at least a few levels away from theatrical nirvana.


Watch: The Retreat runs at the Park Theatre until December 2nd.

The Retreat @ The Park Theatre

The Retreat @ The Park Theatre

Photos: Craig Sugden