Wet House – reviews of 'tremendous' debut play

'Richly authentic' new play tackles life in an alcoholics' hostel with dark humour and empathy

Wet House

What you need to know

Paddy Campbell’sblackly comic play Wet House has come to the Soho Theatre, London, following its hit premiere in Newcastle last year. Campbell’s first full-length play is based on his experiences working in a hostel for alcoholics.

Wet House tells the story of Andy, an idealistic young graduate, who gets a job in a 'wet house', a homeless hostel where residents can drink alcohol. As Andy deals with the troubling behaviour not only of the residents, but his fellow staff, he is forced to face his own dark side.

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Max Roberts directs a cast including Riley Jones as Andy. Runs until 16 November.

What the critics like

This "tremendous first play" has a muscular yet empathetic way with character and story that suggests a writer of enormous promise, says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. It finds new life in familiar archetypes, the performances are bang-on and this expert production is more jaunty than harrowing.

In Campbell's "richly authentic" play the laughs are abundant at first, but it gradually becomes "an indictment of bureaucratic corruption and institutional sadism", says Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard. Campbell’s vision feels punchy rather than preachy and there are some remarkable performances.

Wet House highlights real problems, juxtaposing violence with moments of tenderness, and "dark humour which treads the precarious line of funny and cruel", says Laurna Robertson in What's On Stage. Creating a challenging work like this takes talent, skill and bucket-loads of empathy.

What they don't like

The play avoids puritanical preaching, but is "less convincing when overtaken by sensationalist plotlines, which detract from the work’s grounded naturalism", says Marianka Swain on the Arts Desk. It's tonally uneven and sags in the second half, but at its best delivers unpalatable truths with a bitingly funny sweetener.