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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Priory

We're not going to spend the whole time talking about when we used to take drugs and have fun, pretending that we're much happier now we're not doing any of that stuff. — Daniel
The Priory
Charlotte Riley as Laura and Jessica Hynes as Kate
(Photo: Johan Persson) /div>
One of the best jokes about The Priory is in its title. You see The Priory is also the name of a chain of British upmarket and very expensive rehab centres for people with drink and drug addiction. So when we heard that Rupert Penry-Jones was signed up for The Priory headline writers were ready with items like "Penry-Jones confirmed going into The Priory" In fact the priory in the play is a for hire weekend getaway in the depths of the countryside which Kate (Jessica Hynes) has rented to celebrate New Year's Eve with a group of friends.

Kate will be joined by her gay man friend Daniel (Joseph Milson) and she hopes that a Lesbian couple will be there as well as married actor, pretty but unemployed, Carl (Rupert Penry-Jones) and, one of the first people to have an iphone in London, style merchant Ben (Alastair Mackenzie). Kate's plans for a perfect new year start to go wrong when the two women decline to turn up and Carl comes along accompanied by his wife, yummy mummy Rebecca (Rachel Stirling). No one can stand Rebecca because, although she works full time as a top television producer, she prattles on about her talented children ad nauseum. Apparently one of the brats, the four year old, greets people in the street with "Mummy's won a BAFTA. Have you won any awards?" The adoration of her children by the middle class, achieving mother is something that none of the other single (and childless), thirty-somethings want to hear. Ben also turns up with an unexpected guest, Laura (Charlotte Riley). They are engaged having met only the day before and the garrulous Laura will gush about how wonderful it is to have met exactly the right man. Laura also flesh creepingly tacks on to Daniel extolling the virtues of gay men and embarrassing us with her patronising fondness for all things gay.

Things start to unravel from the beginning for the almost lugubrious Kate as a hooded figure is spotted at the window, the lights go out and Laura, now hysterical, becomes convinced that the priory is haunted or worse. No-one can find any connectivity for the mobile phones and several of the guests roam the surrounding woodland looking for an aerial. To reveal any more plot would be churlish but suffice it to say that things don't improve for this lost generation. Admittedly Rebecca improves as her organising talents come into their own showing that's there two sides to every character, to hers — the obnoxious and the capable.

The acting isn't the problem with a group of actors who are more than capable of straight acting and great comedy but the writing, direction and design may be. Alcohol and designer drugs fuel the spats between those who were superficially friends and Kate is very badly let down when she misjudges the strength of her poker hand.

The set is the grand entrance hall and living room of a very ancient priory complete with dominant perpendicular windows with stained glass rosettes, but somehow it looks more like a mock Gothic tasteless Disneyland hotel. As a set it is a rather large and difficult space for the actors. Michael Wynne, notwithstanding his reputation as a writer for black humour, does not get much more laughter material out of The Priory than a provincial farce nor it is really grim enough to be black humour. The cast may gel better as the run goes on but Jeremy Herrin's direction doesn't seem to have made the most of the darker aspects of the comedy. One of the issues may be over-anticipation for this Christmas season production, because after magnificent plays like Jerusalem , Enron and Cock, we have blinding expectations from Dominic Cooke's regime at the Court.

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The Priory
Written by Michael Wynne
Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Starring: Rupert Penry-Jones, Rachael Stirling, Jessica Hynes, Joseph Millson
With: Alastair Mackenzie, Charlotte Riley, Nick Blood
Design: Robert Innes Hopkins
Lighting: Neil Austin
Sound and Music: Nick Powell
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0020 7565 5000
Booking to 9th January 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th November 2009 performance at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square London SW1 (Tube: Sloane Square)

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