Absolute Hell at the Lyttelton, National Theatre: Press night review by Stephen Vowles

Rodney Ackland’s captivating play Absolute Hell tells the story of Christine Foskett the owner of a rather sleazy and seedy basement club called La Vie En Rose in London’s Soho in the summer of 1945 between VE Day and Labour’s landslide election victory. Foskett’s patrons’ lives intertwine with passion, a desperate need to be loved and sexual tension and with a provocative focus on social class and even religious fervour; and some people that are just plain crazy. Joe Hill-Gibbins very busy style of directing keeps this huge ensemble cast on their toes and throughout the huge stage at the Lyttelton is a buzz.

There are genuine comic moments with stand out performances from Kate Fleetwood as the aforementioned Christine, Charles Edwards as a rather neurotic Huge Mariner, Esh Alladi as Cyril Clatworthy and a stellar performance from Sinead Matthews as Elisabeth Collier. Lizzie Clachan’s magnificent set whilst occupying the vastness of the space still evoked a sense of claustrophobia typical of one of those Soho salons. 

Ackland has created an extraordinary study of the human being and its need to self destruct which can happen to anyone, despite intervention. This is actually pure soap opera where the well-rounded and constructed characters bring a story together that is both manic, vivid at times and also shocking suggesting explicit sexual consensual activity. Full of twists and turns, this is very grand theatre.


Absolute Hell runs to the 16th June at the Lyttelton, National Theatre. Box office 020 7452 3000. 

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