Theatre review: The Retreat

Lack of back story makes for a disappointing comedy, says John Nathan


When it comes to comedy vehicles that just never get started, let alone fly (this metaphor will stop any moment now) unreasonable behaviour has to be up there with deeply stupid people. Both allow a comedy writer to just not bother with the far more difficult, but much funnier practice of writing a character who behaves in a way that we might in similar circumstances.

And so when Sam Bain’s sibling comedy, directed by Kathy Burke, relies on one brother displaying unexplained levels of insensitivity to generate laughs, alarm bells ring.

Burnt out City high-flyer Luke (Samuel Anderson) has found an antidote to his self destructive drug-fuelled lifestyle. With the play set in a stone hut somewhere on a Scottish mountain (part of the retreat of the title) we first encounter him in Buddhist ritual. All is peace and calm. Then, with a crash, bang and wallop, enter his brash older brother Tony (Adam Deacon) who wouldn’t know karma from korma.

Granted, it turns out that the streetwise Tony has done some sensible googling on the retreat’s very attractive (and underwritten) female owner Tara (Yasmin Akram), to whom Luke has promised nearly a million pounds from the sale of his flat. But pretty much everything else that Tony says and does reflects a blunt crassness. The hip hop he plays while Luke attempts meditation is typical.

As a comedy vehicle, the contrasting odd couple scenario can work brilliantly. Steptoe and Son, for instance or, well, The Odd Couple. And the Bafta-winning Bain, who is co-creator of Peep Show, knows this better than most.

There is a moment when it appears his play, Bain’s first, has dramatic potential. It emerges that the brothers’ parents died when they were young, and we learn that while Luke invested his inheritance in a flat, Tony blew his on having fun, which is why he lives with his brother, and so has an interest his brother not giving the proceeds from the sale away.

But there is never an attempt here to explore how one brother ended up so different from the other. I kept on thinking of Miller’s The Price, in which the older sibling is less cultured than the younger because he had more responsibility. That must have been the case here with Tony. Though this wouldn’t explain why he is far less mature than the younger Luke. Instead, these questions are left an unanswered and un-asked. Things are the way they are, we’re told. Take it or leave it. Personally, I’d leave it.

This review has been edited after publication to remove references to Aspergers Syndrome that offended some readers. We apologise for any offence caused. 

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