There could be no finer sad-comic portrayal of a drunk on the stage in recent memory than Dawn, inaccurately calculating distances and climbing into her platform heels as if they were the north face of the Eiger.
With her charming yet chronically alcoholic husband Mick (Allen Leech) and Len (Craig Parkinson), a kind building-site nerd who once had hopes of winning Jean, the troupe embarks on a cut-price bacchanal of drink, fags, singing and nostalgia. That makes for a draining and very long second act, one that pulls us into the world of people cut off from their roots, half-remembering Irish nationalist songs, youthful japes and Elvis dances, and all spiritually at sea in cold-hearted London.
The action is permeated by politics, neatly evident without a sledgehammer. Len thinks the "Pakis" are driving down wages and doesn't like "the way they live" but can't explain why. Racketeering landlords are driving up the rents and inflation eats away at meagre incomes. It's saved from being a misery memoir by Leigh's pinpoint observations, from cautious Len's "Don't mind if I do's" to Jean's curdled sighs of agreement and Dawn's "ooh-er" capacity for astonishment.
Ecstasy ends with a moment of compassion and a sliver of hope, which in Leigh-land is as good as it gets.
The optimism is served in even smaller portions in Neil LaBute's In a Forest, Dark and Deep, playing at the Vaudeville. He's the American dramatist who has inherited the mantle of David Mamet in terms of frequency on the British stage and fan following.
LaBute's mother apparently once asked him why all his plays were so dark. "They're just the comedies," he replied. "Wait till I get to the tragedies."
Frankly, I'd rather not. From his acclaimed Fat Pig, about obesity, to this play, LaBute plumbs the infinite depths of human hypocrisy — and it's never a pretty sight. Misogynist hipster Bobby is played by Matthew Fox, star of TV's Lost with Olivia Williams as Betty, the sister who has transformed herself from youthful slapper to respected liberal arts college dean.
If you think that proposition is a bit of a stretch, then you're right. The play turns on a mystery of what has happened to Betty's student lodger in her forest hideaway and sudden desire to get her reprobate brother round to help clear out her tenant's things.
Fox has a ball with the role of Bobby, who holds appalling views on gays, academics, authors, "douchebags" and everything else liberal audiences hold dear.