Paddy Campbell’s first full-length play, ‘Wet House’ is quite possibly one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen this year. Based on the playwright’s own experiences as a previous employee in a wet house, the play reveals with, frightening reality, what goes on inside a residential facility for chronic alcoholics. When the young and inexperienced Andy (Riley Jones) starts work at in the house, his intention is to improve the lives of the residents, or inmates as it is perhaps more appropriate to label them, by providing them with support and care. As he soon finds out, a wet house is not to be confused with a care-home. The main difference being, the residents aren’t in there to be cured of their alcoholism, they’re there because they can drink in peace. Slowly the depressive, bleak environment infects Andy and he finds himself turning to drink along with his colleague, Mike (Chris Connel) just to get through a shift. He also learns that to leave his traditional morality and views of respectability at the door; here people steal, attack and fall asleep in their own piss. The sheer authenticity of the piece from the script itself to the set to the phenomenal acting, makes it, at times, uncomfortable to watch. However, whilst the action is often disturbing and the subject matter challenging, the production manages to find humour buried in the bleakness. As Campbell tells of his own experiences, ‘Day to day life in the wet house was horrific and hysterical in equal measures’ and this is something that is well reflected in the play. Dinger (Joe Caffrey) is the main source of laughs with his raucous, inappropriate behaviour and general uncleanliness, yet Caffrey finds a profound sadness in him. Whilst we laugh at his uncontrollable shaking and obsession with the woman who works at ‘Beads World’, we also acknowledge the bleakness of his situation as he no longer possess control over his body and will probably never find love. It is Spencer (David Nellist), however, with whom the audience most sympathises. Though a convicted paedophile, his vulnerability and child-like humility is almost unbearable to watch and it is impossible not to share in the pain that radiates from his very presence.
Though the play is nearing the end of it’s run in Newcastle, keep your eyes and ears open for it’s almost certain to have a life after this one.
Book tickets until Saturday: http://www.live.org.uk/whats-on-book/wet-house