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Grud – Hampstead Theatre | Review

A personal story, the play begins with a clear demarcation between ‘home’ and ‘college’ – these boundaries become increasingly blurred as the show goes on, but weren’t they blurred to begin with? Bo (Catherine Ashdown) wasn’t the first and won’t be the last sixth former to bring college work home with her – it’s called ‘homework’ for a very obvious reason. If she refers to her legal guardian by any name at all, it’s Grud (Karl Theobald), what Bo calls “his monster name”, a point not further elaborated on, although there is at least one example of Grud telling the kind of story that might have made Bo smile when she was in primary school, but not now.

Karl Theobald in Grud. Photo credit: Alex Brenner.
Karl Theobald in Grud. Photo credit: Alex Brenner.

Grud struggles with alcohol abuse. At one point he does pour some alcohol down the kitchen sink, but he is ultimately unable to resist the urge to drink to excess, and it is increasingly having an impact on his professional life. The situation is as complex as it feasibly would be in real life: it’s easy, perhaps, to blame the employer for being fully aware of Grud’s drinking problem, placing him “on probation” for having a complaint raised against him without doing anything to deal with the root cause, but it is also reasonable to assume Grud is good at masking his addiction, particularly in the workplace environment, where it is likely to be unusual, if not disallowed, to drink on the job.

Bo meets Aicha (Kadiesha Belgrave) as she samples various extra-curricular activities. Under the guise of ‘Space Club’ they work on what they call Kerbal, some kind of miniature spacecraft. Neither Bo nor Aicha seem to have any other peers, though it is some time before Aicha finds out about Bo looking out for Grud instead of the other way around. Grud’s protestations about providing Bo with board and lodging are laced with drunken ramblings that, being drunken ramblings, make little if any logical sense before all sense of reason goes completely out of the window and the front room is largely trashed.

The staging is inventive when it wants to be, particularly in scenes where Bo goes to a nearby canal, and a couple of video projections enhance the play’s humour. Bo displays no interest in knowing what happened to her mother, in contrast to the genealogy craze of recent years. This coming-of-age story is an engaging one, though there were extended silences that could have been truncated.

Bo and Aicha (or is it Aicha and Bo?) are played by actors who, for whatever reason, speak almost too naturalistically. The quest to emulate normal conversational speed at a normal conversational volume comes at a price – I found some of the dialogue difficult to follow. And this production is at least ten minutes too long, and Grud is very much an unreliable narrator: the audience only knows what went on at his workplace according to his dismissive and antagonistic perspective. That said, Sarah Power’s script does well to place a couple of not-so-cool students front and centre of a gritty story.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Cast Catherine Ashdown, Kadiesha Belgrave and Karl Theobald

Writer Sarah Power
Director Jaz Woodcock-Stewart
Design Noemi Daboczi
Lighting Design Cheng Keng
Sound Design Cutty Sark

‘Hey I know you! You’re the one that’s always in the back of the library. Like a little library gremlin. Eating up knowledge. And Haribo.’ 

It’s a new term at college and, for most of the Sixth Form students, all that matters are mocks, UCAS applications and whether or not Elliot Park and Georgia Smith had sex in the study room at lunchtime.

After losing the election for student president, Aicha is throwing all her energy into the school’s ‘Extended Physics Project’ – or, as she calls it, Space Club. One afternoon, Aicha is surprised by the appearance of the usually introverted and distant Bo, doubling the membership of Space Club. Whilst Aicha is thrilled to have a mysterious new friend, Bo is distracted by the black hole at the heart of her home life. She’s worked so hard to launch herself into bigger and better things – but will Grud eclipse her efforts and pull her off course?

Hampstead Downstairs/Celia Atkin present
GRUD
Friday 28 June to Saturday 3 August 2024

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