Writer: Thomas Eccleshare
Director: Hamish Pirie
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
What we want for our children is rarely what they want for themselves, but would it result in what we really want either? Thomas Eccleshare poses the question in this new absurdist satire that scythes through the jungle of modern parenting and gives a glimpse into what genetic engineering could be holding in store for the future.
Max and Harry are not happy with their errant teenage son Nick, so they decide to replace him in with a new model who will conform to their idea of perfection, becoming something like a clone of themselves. They acquire their new “son” in much the same way as they would buy a bed from a Swedish furniture store, getting the pieces in a flat pack and assembling them at home. The result is Jân. If his behaviour ever falls short of desired standards, he comes with a remote control which has a rewind button so that he can be made to try again until he gets it right. As a last resort, there is a money back guarantee.
The first quarter of Hamish Pirie’s surreal production is performed inside a small rectangle, surrounded by darkness, halfway back on the stage. This gives a curious effect, like watching a television monitor in an IMAX cinema, but Cai Dyfan’s set opens out to coincide with the point when the play itself begins to take a hold. Eventually, a mass of foliage appears at the very back and, together with a line of sunflowers which separates the audience from the actors, the suggestion is that the characters whom we are watching are in sight of nature but not responding to it in their actions.
Jane Horrocks is terrific as the bemused, caring/non-caring Max and, occasionally, when she slips into her “Bubbles” mode, she lends the play a delicious flavour of AbFab meets Frankenstein. Mark Bonnar also hits the nail on the head as the DIY-obsessed Harry and Brian Vernel, casually rebellious as Nick and straight-faced but never robotic as Jân, is the source of the production’s biggest laughs.
Eccleshare takes us into the world of urban middle classes and tears it to pieces. Here, families jog together, eat whole foods together and aspire for their offspring to become human rights lawyers. Parents parade their children’s academic prowess like prize trophies, as with Laurie and Paul (Michele Austin and Jason Barnett) and their Oxford-bound daughter Amy (Shaniqua Okwok). The hypocrisy of these lifestyles is exposed to the full in two hilarious dinner parties when Jân’s gaffes puncture the illusions of accord and harmony completely.
The sterility of the satire diminishes the impact of the pathos that creeps in late on in the 100-minute play. However, after an uncertain start, in warning us to be careful what we wish for and in stirring up howls of laughter, it all holds together perfectly.
Runs until 19 May 2018 | Image: Johan Persson