The Theatreguide.London Review
National Theatre Summer 2018; Trafalgar Studios Winter 2018 -
family gathers for an emotionally-charged occasion, and tensions that
had always been present burst out under the special pressure of the
moment. Plays with this premise make up a significant chunk of the
British (The Homecoming, In Celebration) and American (Streetcar,
Long Day's Journey) repertoires.
Gordon's play, seen at the
National Theatre earlier this year and now transferred for a West End
run, brings new life to the genre by examining a culture too often
neglected by the theatre and by exploiting the natural emotional
expressiveness of that group, to both comic and dramatic ends.
matriarch of a British family with Jamaican roots dies and the clan
gathers for the traditional nine days of mixed mourning and
celebrating, a custom roughly akin to the seven-day Jewish 'sitting
shiva' but in practice a little more like nine Irish wakes in a row.
family is made up of types, and the occasion brings the roles
into high focus. One adult daughter, who was mother's primary carer,
is now left to do all the work of hostess, funeral arranger and
auntie who is always right and eager to tell
everyone else that they're wrong comes into full bloom as
enthusiastic critic and nay-sayer. Male members of the family who are
not by nature very open with their emotions now seem actively cold
and unfeeling in their stoicism.
every hint of a
disagreement releases sibling rivalries and other normally controlled
grudges and resentments. The one daughter who was left behind in
Jamaica and always held up to the others as impossibly perfect
arrives and reveals that she has had her own lifetime of resentment
at being exiled.
further complications and conflicts arise from
the simple fact that life does go on. One woman is newly pregnant,
one man is in the middle of a major business deal he can't ignore.
this goes on among characters who are not subdued or inhibited in
their expression of their feelings, and the result is a play about a
death that is startlingly full of life.
of it – notably that
boisterously disapproving aunt – is hilariously funny; much of it –
notably that Jamaican sister who enters as a comic character and then
gets to express real unhappiness – will catch you up short with its
Director Roy Alexander Weise captures all the ethnic energy of the characters and setting without letting them lapse into caricature or cliche, and the acting honours go to Cecilia Noble as the scene-stealing aunt, Michelle Greenidge as the long-lost sister who is not the villain we expect and, in an unshowy role that is actually the emotional spine of the play, Natasha Gordon as the one who just gets on with doing all the work.
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