The Motherf**ker with the Hat: play with a punch
Incoming National Theatre Artistic Director Rufus Norris could barely keep a straight face when announcing the most arrestingly titled show in his inaugural season. The Motherf**ker with the Hat is a darkly comic examination of New York life, as seen by ex-con and recovering addict Jackie, played with pizazz by star of TV series Desperate Housewives, Ricardo Chavira. His attempts to come good are challenged by vivacious but volatile girlfriend Veronica (Flor De Liz Perez) and an increasingly slimy AA sponsor (Alec Newman). As the plot verges on a raucous Jerry Springer show -- drugs, sex, betrayal and violence -- the comedy is hollowed out to leave a raw portrait of love and weakness.
It turns out the potty-mouthed title is a blessing: it warns away the type of National Theatre audiences who will be outraged by a casual curse word. As far the play's profane language goes 'mother**ker' is a gateway drug that soon gives way to torrents of class A expletives. Happily the hilariously inventive, offensive language isn't a heavy-handed attempt to shock. Instead it adds an authentic rhythm to the speech and works to punctuate both the comedy and the violence. Stephen Adly Guirgis' script is characteristically whip-quick with distinctively American humour that doesn't feel diluted for the London stage.
With a series of exposed apartment interiors, framed by more abstract suspended stairwells, Robert Jones' set gave an elegant and effective mix of domestic intimacy and the buzz of a City beyond. While the shift from one flat to another was initially dynamic, as the play went on each scene seemed to drag. When it was good it was a delight, but the show hurtles along at the same pace for two hours with no interval. Towards the end, especially with a baggy extended fight scene, it began to feel monotonous and would benefit from slightly slicker, bolder direction.
For us the highlight of the evening and star of the show was Yul Vázquez as oddball cousin Julio. Pitch-perfect comic timing elevates a potentially frivolous secondary character to the funniest and most moving performance of devotion against all odds that we've seen. It's a shame he wasn't on stage for longer.
|What||The Motherf**ker with the Hat, National Theatre|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
10 Jun 15 – 10 Jul 15, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book via the National Theatre|