If you are planning to buy tickets for Park Theatre’s The Retreat hoping to be educated on the merits or demerits of Buddhism you will be disappointed…but you will definitely have a good laugh.
Luke (Samuel Anderson) is a burned-out City boy turned wannabe Buddhist monk, he has joined a retreat at the back of beyond in Scotland and with the help of tantric trainee Tara (Yasmine Akram) he hopes for a fast-track to enlightenment; he has dutifully replaced drugs, money and prostitutes with meditation and a singing bowl. The spanner in the works is his brother Tony (Adam Deacon), who arrives unexpectedly and is not all that pleased when he finds out that his brother is planning to be ordained, sell his London flat – where Tony also lives – and donate the money to the retreat. All the action takes place within one hut, a spartan, stone-walled room, with its prayer flags, singing bowl Buddha statues…and porn magazine under the bed.
The Retreat is 90mins straight through and it lacks dramatic depth and complexity; the few dramatic scenes are underdeveloped intervals between the comedy, but it works because of the slick direction and the comedic talent of Adam Beacon.
Bain’s text adheres more to the pace of a comedy TV-show than it does to theatre but he still manages to deliver his jokes to the audience successfully. It is a succession of acidic, pithy foul-mouthed put-downs, delivered with glee and bravado by Tony, mostly, as he tries to puncture his brother’s self-righteous bubble. Of course that does not mean he himself is any less of a self-serving mess. In the process both brothers have their wounds and hypocrisies exposed. But, who better to hold up a mirror to our own ridiculous existence than our family, with that uncanny ability to get under our skin and bring down our false walls. In the process Bain takes the piss out of our found yet again need for spirituality and mindful contentment…how very first-world and ‘60s of us! In the end, we did not reach nirvana but we did laugh.