Writer: Christina Castling
Director: Jonluke McKie
Working class pride, communal identity and belonging are at the big northern heart of Christina Castling’s A Way Home. A family drama set in the 1950s, against the backdrop of Durham City Council’s destruction of many mining villages, the play interrogates questions which traverse decades and generations. What makes a home? And who gets to decide what makes a home?
It’s 1951. Bet (Jacqueline Phillips), the family matriarch, is fighting for her home. For her community. The council have classified her village, along with a third of the county, as ‘D’. Meaning no longer worthy of investment. Meaning soon to be demolished. At first, the activist spirit is widespread, but it sharply dwindles. Even Bet’s family – husband Frank (David Raynor), daughter Cathy (Jude Nelson), son-in-law Joe (Luke Maddison) – start to see the benefits of a life in a new house.
Much is to be praised for A Way Home. The writing and acting together have strength of feeling and an abundance of Geordie humour and warmth. The twists and turns of the plot, and the rendering of family dynamics are realistic but captivating. Everyday emotions are given a capital letter, but never run risk of melodrama. Raynor’s portrayal of Frank is a celebration of the everyman, of the power of being good and finding the good in life.
Alison Ashton’s set design is integral to the central drama. The house is both dilapidated and homely, with a worn frame holding proud and treasured possessions. This juxtaposition forms the main argument and the audience are encouraged to hear both sides. For Bet, this place is where she belongs. How dare anyone tell her otherwise: “This house isn’t unfit for habitation. We’re inhabiting it. It’s been inhabited for 100 years!” And for the others “it’s just bricks.” A home constitutes more than a building.
For all Bet’s determined power is felt, it would be beneficial to conjure a sense of the wider solidarity. There are mentions of other villages and the local committee, but overall the inspiring feeling of widespread social action rendered in works like Billy Elliot is missing. After the first few scenes, it appears Bet is blindly and naively fighting alone. This, together with her repetitive monologuing, grows tired. Empathy is lost. Many of the scenes show her ranting and raving the same lines, while the other characters sit stifled. We know Bet’s stance – we feel it from the opening. There is room for more nuance to follow.
Having said this, the closing action opens up new dialogues and the final message is one of bravery; the power of accepting change. Of moving on but always remembering. A Way Home is testament to northern strength and pride, but also to the creativity that flourishes in our theatres.
Touring until 27th June 2022.