(seen at the afternoon performance on 14th March 2020)
Three scenes linked by Kenneth (Nicholas Burns). First, at 19, stealing brother Henry’s (Patrick Knowles) girlfriend Sandra (Rachel Stirling) in Henry’s 1967 London flat. Second, 1987 Reading. Kenneth and Sandra’s children Rose (Isabella Laughland) and Jamie (Mike Noble) are 16 and 14... emotionally neglected in a volatile marriage. Final scene 2011, Kenneth’s flat, Birmingham, the family gather after a loss.
For those who saw Mike Bartlett’s most recent work “Snowflake” we are in familiar territory. Inter-generational anger plays out in a manner suggesting this 2010 work is very much part of some overarching plan by the author.
Unlike “Snowflake,” where despair has led to a generation attempting to change social values as they can’t buy into consumerist ones, the crux of this is tracing how the 60s generation, in the words of exasperated 2011 Rose, “took everything and privatised it.” They had the freedom to do as they wished, and smashed ladders for the generation they produced – who could not then (and as time has proven cannot now) expect anything like the wealth that generation produced. Worse, they fail to allow those younger to come even close to grasping the lifestyle. A generation that hasn’t yet accepted the fact is the focus of the action.
Joanna Schotcher’s inspired proscenium opening reflecting the TV screen sizes and shapes of each period frame beautifully detailed interiors with great attention to detail. Paul Keogan also has a masterclass in period lighting, with particularly subtle commentary on the action in the third scene. Simon Slater’s sound design and composition are also in tune reflecting the “Love, Love, Love” (yes, crucial Beatles reference) theme. In fact, the pre-show and interval songs are cleverly chosen too, making it worthwhile turning up early and hanging around to hear them.
Rachel O’Riordan has the actors making each interaction look easy. Burns and Knowles are in period sitcom mode until Stirling changes the atmosphere for something more 60s kitchen sink. Knowles role is the smallest in the play, but we learn all we need to about the entire family in a strong delivery both verbal and physical.
Burns does well moving from dropout student to family man to retired smug, but Stirling is simply remarkable – her dramatic range makes her equally credible at 19, 39 and 61. No prosthetics or particular make-up trickery that the monkey could see from the front row, just costume, manner and voice. It is not ungallant enough to Google the actor’s real age, but her range is outstanding.
Children Laughland and Noble do better in the third scene playing closer to their own ages – Noble’s schoolboy permitted rebellion was fun but he was too obviously too old for it to be entirely effective. Laughland too was best in her Lear / Cordelia moment than that earlier scene.
Totally reflecting the view of the monkey’s generation on the topic, and dissecting beautifully the reasons for the situation, this is an expert piece of political theatre both in the writing and the staging. That it happens along at a time very possibly many won’t get to see it is just another disaster on top of all it reflects.
Hopefully, when the current situation eases, the theatre will be able to run this again. If they do, then see it if you can.
Due to the current situation, the monkey is taking a blog break until further notice. Stay safe until next we meet.