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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Family Plays (The Good Family / The Khomenko Family Chronicles)
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs       December 2007

These two curious one-act plays have little in common beyond being about families (but, then again, so are King Lear and Cinderella), and are neither really strong enough to stand on their own.

So the power of the evening must come from whatever resonances and comparison/contrasts the viewer imposes on them.

The Good Family, by Swedish playwright Joakim Pirinen, is a satire on Swedish complacency in their perfect culture.

A perfect family spends a perfect evening at home. Father's job is very successful, mother delights in cooking and in writing her play, son's exams have gone well, and daughter's sex life is great.

Dinner is appreciated by all, the children vie for the pleasure of doing the washing up, and all is right with the world.

The play sustains this with an absolute straight face and not the hint of a crack in the veneer, and I assume that the deadness of language in Gregory Motton's translation - 'How nice it is that society offers so many different types of work at the same time as people have such different interests and abilities' - replicates the deadpan style of the original.

The problem is that it is a one-joke play, that makes its point in the first few minutes, and then just keeps making it over and over, with no real addition to the basic joke, so that even at 30 minutes it seems overlong.

The cast - Samantha Spiro and Jeremy Swift as the parents, Daisy Lewis and Harry Lloyd as the teenagers - play it with absolute straight faces throughout, as director Joe Hill-Gibbins has evidently instructed, but they must feel the strain of stretching the fragile conceit so far.

The Khomenko Family Chronicles, by Ukrainian writer Natalia Vorozhbit (translated by Sasha Dugdale) is both shorter and marginally stronger, if only because it has some humanity to it.

In the hospital room of a child evidently dying of cancer, his bluff and uncultured parents reply to his questions with the story of how they met, married and had him, a story whose timeline is measured with references to Chernobyl and 9/11.

The boy then has a dream that jumbles these images and his own hospital experience into a phantasmagoria that reflects his hope of recovery and fear of dying.

It's a slight piece, and some of its points (like the implied connection between the parents' youth in the shadow of Chernobyl and the boy's disease) are a bit heavy-handed.

But director Hill-Gibbons and the actors - Lewis Lempereur-Palmer, Samantha Spiro and Jeremy Swift - capture the barely sketched-in sense of the parents' love and fear for their child and the boy's own half-conscious feelings.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  The Family Plays - Royal Court Theatre 2007

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