Review: The Motherf**ker with the Hat at the Lyttelton, National Theatre

After months of being content with the National Theatre’s productions (Everyman, Light Shining), it is a thrill to see a play that takes me beyond well-mannered pleasure – a polite clap, mumbles of ‘yes, good, it was good, yeah’ – back into a frantic state of wanting to tell everybody to see this motherf**king show!

Whilst my addiction to theatre is still strong – gratifying without the adverse consequences – this blog has been clean for over a (busy) year, and it has taken such a show to motivate me to relapse and write again. Jackie (Ricardo Chavira) is on parole and off drugs when the appearance of a mysterious hat in his girlfriend’s apartment threatens to put his hard work at risk. The vibrant (and frankly, gorgeous) Veronica (Flor De Liz Perez), with her explosive temper, leads Jackie’s accusations and anger to spiral as he reaches out to his camp cousin Julio (Yul Vázquez) who used to be a sex addict but it’s behind him now, ‘no pun intended’, and his apparently supportive, but slimy, sponsor Ralph (Alec Newman). Ralph and his wife Victoria (Nathalie Armin) are the stereotypical unhappily married couple (Ralph’s request for a beverage receives a swift “Go fuck yourself”). Although this is the least developed of all the relationships, it’s conventional appearance is soon revealed to be as damaged as the rest.

The ‘effin’ and blindin’ made me smile, not only because it was darn funny a lot of the time, but because I knew that the type of National Theatre audience member who would usually sniff at the odd swear word had no chance of escape. The delight of a show that runs without an interval is that you can fully immerse yourself in the performances and the story. For a play as punchy as this, an artificial respite would not make the moments of stark honesty and tenderness so remarkable. That these sit so effortlessly next to moments of distinctive, snappy humour (the touching scene where Julio reminisces on his childhood with Jackie springs to mind) is impressive. Neither hilarity nor heartfelt speeches dilute the other, which indicates some extraordinary writing by Stephen Adly Guirgis.

As with all National Theatre productions, I was impressed by the music and the set. The apartment interiors here shift dynamically from one to the other, underneath overhanging industrial stairwells, to rhythmic inter-scene beats. It is, however, the cast and the incredibly well-written script that makes this show notable. For all its trash talk and casual expletives, this dark play is one of great tenderness that focuses on the rawness of feeling and the consequences of addiction and betrayal. The relationships between the characters are difficult at best and ultimately twisted, which is not to say they do not appear realistic. On the contrary, the unhealthy romances and damaging friendships are merely confirming what exists around us, if not within us, in our own lives.

✮ ✮ ✮ ✮

*image not my own, courtesy of national theatre*

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