The reputation of Theatre 503 as London’s bubbling crucible of new writing is further enhanced with Stuart Slade’s Cans, a two-hander set in a cluttered garage. Like all 503’s work, the journey from page to stage is satisfyingly swift, supported with decent production values and some fine acting, so Cans may be the first full-length piece to deal with the fallout from Operation Yewtree.  Certainly the first comedy.

Jen and her youthful hippyish uncle Len are sifting through the belongings of a high profile television personality who was a Yewtree accusee and, it’s soon revealed, committed suicide and Jen now has to come to terms with being spat at in supermarkets while dealing with the loss of her successful, popular, generous dad: a man who had 49 good years and one crucifyingly terrible one.

Theoretically, the play ‘explores themes of loss and forgiveness’ but that’s more marketing wank than dramatic substance since what most engages you is the cosy and sometimes sexually edgy relationship between ‘uncle’ Len and his twenty year old niece, swapping roles of mentor and mentee, behaving alternately badly and nobly, and passing comment on Jen’s mother who has retreated to her bed with post-bereavement depression.

You can take or leave Jennifer Clement‘s Jen. The play travels four or five months in time, but her emotions don’t seem to change, and she feels too lifeless and un-angry for a comparatively intelligent woman. Maybe Slade writes better for men, but in contrast Graham O’Mara’s shifting, smart-but-hiding-it and wonderfully-timed sardonic Len is one of the most realistic and fully realised performances you may see on the fringe: he’s not a man you might want to spend time with down the pub, although by the end of the piece I liked him a whole lot more than on first sight – and rushing to judgement is largely what the play is about – but it’s an exemplar of immersive intelligent acting.

The piece really only has one idea, and it could as easily be explored in four scenes as these five, but the quality of the writing and O’Mara’s performance just sustain your interest. Slade feels like an original and completely British voice so it’s only a compliment to suggest Cans bore comparison with Sam Shephard: shades of Fool For Love in the stronger exchanges between the two characters, and an echo of A Lie of the Mind in the family dysfunction.

 

 Cans continues at Theatre 503 at The Latchmere, 503 Battersea Park Road SW11 until November 29.  Production photograph by Tani van Amse.