The Retreat is very amusing, and I enjoyed many of the putdowns from Tony (Adam Deacon) towards his brother Luke (Samuel Anderson). It was difficult, however, to grasp why the setting was where it was – a spiritual centre run by Tara (Yasmine Akram) in the Scottish Highlands. Layer by layer, the inner peace and tranquillity Luke wishes to find through what he calls “the Buddhist path” seems increasingly elusive, not least because, as it transpires, he isn’t sticking to his beloved path as well as he could be. Tara, too, contradicts herself, externally embracing a philosophy that treats the accumulation of wealth as ultimately unimportant, but eventually demonstrating greed.
Tony is the Very Funny Guy and churns out punchline after punchline, leaving Luke almost by default as the more sensible type. It’s somewhat more nuanced than that, as some of what Luke says and does is quite ridiculous, and whenever it is, it’s picked up by Tony, each and every time. As the play progresses, Luke becomes more playful, and becomes a sort of Ernie Wise to Tony’s Eric Morecambe.
There isn’t much, if anything, to take away from this production in terms of poignancy or food for thought, and it’s a struggle to feel much sympathy for any of the characters, faced with an uncertain future in their own respective ways. The comic timing, particularly from Adam Deacon as Tony, is flawless. But too much of the dialogue fails to advance the storyline, and only really serves as a set up for the next gag. An example. Luke: “When you get on the Tube, are you faced with a sea of smiling faces?” Tony: “No. Because they’re on the f– -ing Tube.”
The laughs keep coming, for sure, and there is some clever writing from Sam Bain to be enjoyed, sometimes containing vivid imagery. However, it is though someone backstage has a stopwatch running, ensuring the next joke is never too far away. So I emerged from the play with as much knowledge about Buddhism as I did when I went in, because the emphasis in this production is on playing to the gallery.
There was something about the near-relentless attacks on Luke’s quest for happiness (whatever ‘happiness’ is) to be appreciated, particularly as he is no less grumpy having gone on this retreat (hence the show’s title) as he was previously. Other times, however, Tony seems to be deliberately misconstruing what Luke is saying. It’s a source for yet more laughter amongst the audience, but the narrative, flimsy as it is, is slowed down by the regular interventions and interruptions as Tony repeatedly jumps to conclusions.
It was never difficult to follow events, and Yasmine Akram does well with what is a relatively underwritten character. If this were a television situation comedy, this would be standard fare. It is well-acted and well-directed – the slick professionalism should be credited – but I am not sure that audiences will feel they have been serviced with a theatrical experience that offers something deeper and different to what they could have stayed home to watch on telly.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Luke, a former high-flyer from the City, is sitting in a remote stone hut halfway up a mountain in the Scottish Highlands. He is on a meditation retreat, searching for the inner peace that so far has eluded him. The trouble is, not only will his mind not settle, but an uninvited guest arrives – his obnoxious older brother, Tony. Is Tony everything that’s wrong with Luke’s old life, or is he the only one who can really see into his soul? And is Luke’s quest for spirituality a way of transforming himself, or is it just another form of addiction? The Retreat is a sharp new comedy drama about a world where we can never escape ourselves, or find ourselves either.
Debbie Hicks and Jesse Romain in association with Park Theatre present
The World Premiere of
By Sam Bain
Directed by Kathy Burke
At Park Theatre
From Thursday 2 November to Saturday 2 December 2017