Kicking and Screaming – Hackney Showroom, London

Writers: Tangled Feet
Directors: Kat Joyce and Nathan Curry
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman

Parenthood is a complex beast. The expectation placed on couples – and in particular women – to have a child by a certain age, and then to excel at every aspect of parenthood can be both daunting and isolating. Some of this pressure is internal, but much comes from the outside and perceived ideas of the “right” way to parent and that “everyone else manages”.

tell-us-block_editedTangled Feet’s Kicking and Screaming examines some of the challenges of this new reality through the eyes of two couples about to have their first child. Sam and Ronnie have plans about their plans and lists galore for the baby they have tried to conceive for three years – yet, when baby Ella is born,  they quickly realise that there is no schedule or playbook for this new adventure. Natasha and Jay are a very different kind of couple, seeming far less prepared for the baby that seems to have been unplanned and trying to adjust to the end of a party lifestyle.

Most audience members will recognise many elements of this play, and likely identify with aspects of the characters. There are some very funny moments, clever musical sections and striking stylised sequences – however, there is a feeling of chaos that does not seem to merely reflect the upheaval in the characters’ lives. There is very little narrative, with the piece being episodic, which works very well for the lighter sections but becomes problematic when serious topics such as post-partum depression are touched on but not fully addressed. Attempts to provide a back story for each character vary in success, as often these revelations are made suddenly, without build up or pay off, and occur within the space of one line. These moments feel clumsy and insincere, which is clearly not the intention, but there is a sense that too many aspects have been crammed into the production, which feels more like a first act that a fully realised play.

Despite these shortcomings, Kicking and Screaming is largely enjoyable, with some breakthrough moments. Ciaran Kellgren is endearing as feckless Jay, evincing an energy and enthusiasm that is contagious, and his relationship with Sara Templeman’s Natasha is believable and, at times, touching. The references to his poor relationship with his father are not explored fully enough in the piece, but both Kellgren and Templeman make the most of the text that is there to give it as much weight as they can. The strongest moments involve Laura Mugridge’s narrator, first turning Jay’s computer game into a day-out-with-baby challenge, then as both Ronnie’s daughter and mother, as she narrates the mother’s half of the phone call while throwing food. The humour and performances in these sections are delightful, and the play would be far stronger if there were more of them. Rhys Jarman’s set design is excellent, both intelligent and functional, and with surprising aspects that allow toys to become dynamic multi-use props and adds impact to the stylised sequences.

The decision to use actor-musicians, and to play all the music on children’s instruments, is inspired and extremely successful. The use of a loop pedal to allow the performers to act against their own soundscape was both clever and effective, and there were some songs in the piece that really underscored the action and allowed the characters to develop. Equally, there are songs that add very little and felt like padding – Lionel Richie’s All Night Long is a lot of fun, but its inclusion did not advance the story and felt like the performers were uncomfortable during it.

Kicking and Screaming has all the elements of a fun, thoughtful production, but needs a lot more swaddling to bring those aspects together in a more meaningful and effective way. This is a piece that would have benefited from a writer or dramaturg, as that outside eye may have addressed some of these imbalances, and it is unclear if having two directors contributed to this lack of cohesion. The parts of the production that are good are very good, and it would be a pleasure to see it in a more developed state.

Runs until 26 October 2016 | Image: Colin Davison


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