The Fastest Clock in the Universe @ Hampstead Theatre, London

cast list
Alec Newman, Finbar Lynch, Neet Mohan, Eileen Page, Jaime Winstone

directed by
Edward Dick
Philip Ridley has described his plays as explosions in reverse.

The Fastest Clock In The Universe, which premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in 1992 causing a minor sensation, plays out more like a ticking time bomb.

In this finely calibrated revival, showing as part of the venues 50th birthday celebrations, the tension builds right from the opening scene.

The lights go up to reveal a buff bloke in y-fronts and shades sprawled threateningly in front of a sun lamp who for the first few minutes greets his older flatmates chat with a blank forward stare.
When the sun worshipper finally snaps into action, you can only sit back and marvel at what a splendidly gothic character Cougar Glass is.

A deeply unpleasant, ultra vain man who likes to hold endless 19th birthday parties for himself, Glass has deep seated fears about ageing (hes actually 30). He also likes to entice youngsters to his rundown east London flat which sits above a disused fur factory.

His companion and reluctant partner in crime is Captain Tock, a browbeaten but strangely dignified older man who makes sure the cake, candles and cards are always ready and helps ply Glasss guests with vodka.

The would be victim on this particular night is Foxtrot Darling (you get used to the ridiculous names), a 15-year-old lad whos just lost a brother to the streets. Glass has developed a bond with him by following him to the hospital and pretending to be grieving for an invented wife.

But just before the interval, it transpires that Glass may not have his wicked way so easily. Darlings new girlfriend, Sherbet Gravel, a hilariously over the top Jaime Winstone, crashes the party. Two parts Vicky Pollard to one part Siouxsie Sioux, Gravel is an irritant to the predatory Glass, and their antagonistic battle inevitably drags the action towards a shocking final crescendo.

This drama, Ridleys second play after his similarly highly regarded The Pitchfork Disney in 1991, helped to cement the east London playwrights position as one of the leading lights of what would soon become known as In-Yer-Face Theatre.

The blackly comic yet deeply unsettling second half of the play shows us why. Director Edward Dick draws out fine performances from Winstone, a seriously sinister Alec Newman as Glass and Finbar Lynch as the conflicted Tock. Only Neet Mohans Darling fails to convince entirely, played a little bit public school for the grimy East End.

The Steptoe and Son meets Dorian Gray set design adds to the macabre mood. Packed with crap antiques and stuffed birds of every description, Tock describes it as like living inside a cracked egg.

Having said all that, the first half does lag somewhat. And Ridleys insistence on each character having several baroque monologues or reminiscences can really make the narrative sag at times. The spooky music which kicks in each time one is uttered is also a bit heavy-handed.

Still, these image arias, as Ridley calls them, are the playwrights stock in trade so it seems a bit churlish to complain. And few weave them better than the East Ends poet prince of darkness.

As Glass says to Tock, trying to defend his morally questionable pursuit of Darling, Fuck the milk of human kindness and welcome to the abattoir!”

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