Four stars

Sit back, relax and let David Eldridge’s angst-ridden script explode with vitality, richness and unnerving realism as it hits the BT stage in 5th week. Relax is certainly what will happen as Oxford drama boasts of its effortless acting capabilities, as this precocious cast bring Eldridge to life with complete conviction and thorough investment. Director Charlotte Gibney realises this stark play with a visual genius, leading her cast with an astute sense for the naturalistic which will leave the audience wonderfully enthralled from beginning to end.
Written in 1996, when Eldridge was still a student at Exeter University, Serving It Up follows the life of Sonny (Matt Orton) as he trudges through life on a council estate in Hackney, exploring his ups and downs, his loves and his hates with a raw intensity and a biting anger. Aside from dabbling in the delirium of drugs, Sonny exhibits a problem with violence, struggling to quell his more aggressive outbursts, whether directed at his mother, Val (Jennie Hyde), his love interest, Wendy (Antonia Tam) or his best friend, Nick (Max Woolfson).
Gibney sets the stage up to witness visually the internal battle Sonny struggles to subdue, with the stage exhibiting the conflict between internal and external by a central division, thereby emphasising this concept concretely and dynamically.
Quite simply, the cast is good; a refreshing delight to watch (not to mention to review). Orton commands the stage with his almost uncomfortably-good portrayal of Sonny and all his schizophrenic tendencies. Switching between extreme emotions is a difficult thing for an actor to pull off well, and Orton does so with splendid results. A perfect complement to this is Jennie Hyde’s seamless representation of Val, Sonny’s flighty mother who exhibits a humorous obsession with cake and the comfort this offers her in between the instabilities of her love life. Hyde manages to convince an audience that she is, in fact, a middle-aged woman with a bizarre Victoria-sponge- obsession, arousing a great deal of sympathy for her character in the midst of the play’s violence.
Another highlight is Antonia Tam’s realisation of Wendy, the coy young girl with an acrid tongue who Sonny takes a shining to. The chemistry between Orton and Tam lights up the stage, where they are able to match each other’s hostile remarks tit-for-tat. Woolfson delivers the role of Nick with satisfying results, although his performance is less memorable or imposing than that of his co-actors.
Designed for the true theatre-lover, Serving It Up does not promise to be “easy” theatre; nothing is spared, neither in the language nor in the action, and it reminds us that theatre is a forum in which we can explore the very boundaries of human acceptability. Great acting, solid directing and clever staging, this production certainly does serve it up, bringing to the stage a play any well-versed and erudite audience would be impressed to watch.