Land of Lost Content review – Arcola Theatre, London ★★★☆☆

Review by Katie Shaw

After being slightly puzzled for the first few minutes, I quickly warmed to the tone and pace of Henry Madd’s play, Land of Lost Content; a poignant tale about his youth, created through oral recollection and physical reconstruction of memories for the audience.

This nonlinear tale jumps between present-day Henry and Jake in the pub, reminiscing about their memories of youth, and exactly what happened to get them there. The two friends first meet at their year 7 school disco, where everybody is dressed to impress: girls in their polka dot dresses over jeans, boys in their jeans and scarves, and Jake, regrettably, in his heelies. Many years of friendship later, they return to their local pub, The Flat Earth Inn, nestled in the heart of their small hometown where they sit with a pint of beer and reminisce on their youth. Reflecting on everything from the time Jake pissed in Kirsty’s freezer, to Henry’s first kiss in a tree, to that game of spin the bottle, the two friends take us on a trip down memory lane. 

What at first appears to be an amusing recollection of their teenage years, at a time when Apologize by Timbaland was number 1 in the charts (ah, the glory days of ‘07), this tale takes a sharp and abrupt turn to confront a darker side of their youth. Henry and Jake weave in and out of grappling with serious themes like sexual assault, drunk driving, reckless behaviour, and casual homophobia, to more light-hearted talk of teenage parties and first kisses. A play that also pokes fun at the small-town stereotypes – encountering Phil the philosophical dickhead, Trev the racist, and old man Keith, none of whom can quite get on board with the progressive changes of the 21st century, this play allows for both humour and sincere contemplation throughout. Similarly to when I came out of the cinema having just watched Barbie, coming out of the Arcola Theatre after watching Land of Lost Content sparked a conversation with a friend about our own ‘coming of age’ experiences, and recalling both the joys and dangers of our own adolescence. We unpacked the content and themes of the play, finding ways that we could relate to it. It is certainly a play that forces uncomfortable but necessary conversations, and for that I praise Madd’s insightful and intellectual writing. 

Henry’s remarks about not quite having the coming-of-age story that is promised to us in film and television (even suggesting that they felt nostalgic for the future of their childhood through these channels) captures the loss of reality and blurred lines between what is real and what is imagined. This particular theme is analysed towards the end and serves as an important reminder that while it is great to have memories of our adolescence, we must not stay trapped in a nostalgic cocoon, yearning for those carefree years. We must move with the tide, as time flows on around us.

Madd’s writing is beautifully poetic, and the actors seamlessly switch between poetic monologues and laddish dialogue. The meaningful dialogue alongside the vehement performances by both Henry Madd and Marc Benga make this a brilliant watch.

The show will begin its tour in London at the Arcola Theatre from 27 February to 2 March. It then visits Tunbridge Wells, Canterbury, Norwich, Guildford, Oxford, Bristol, Leeds, Hereford, Birmingham, Bradford, York, and Falmouth.