Writer: Chris Thompson
Director: Robert Hastie
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
The details of Chris Thompson’s new three-act play, first seen at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, may be very modern, but the style of its opening is distinctly old-fashioned. A living room, an expecting married couple and a cantankerous, interfering mother-in-law are staples of domestic comedy, but the modern twist is that couple are gay men and it is a fourth character, their long-time friend, who is about to give birth.
Daniel, played by James Lance as volatile and unstable, is 46 and recalls the days of closeted gay life. He is uneasy in the roles of husband and soon-to-be father, but 32-year-old Oliver (Joshua Silver) is a romantic who sees everything in his current life as natural. Pondering who will be “Dad” and who “Daddy”, they decide that they will both be the former, as their age difference gives unfortunate connotations to the latter.
The surrogate mother, Chetna Pandya’s grounded Priya, seems at first to be totally relaxed about the situation and she parties with the fathers merrily. Then the peace is disturbed by the arrival of Daniel’s battle-axe mother, Lydia (Joanna Bacon). “It’s like she smells dysfunction” Oliver declares later when anticipating her arrival at the door in the middle of a marital tiff, and it is friction between Lydia and her son-in-law that sets sparks flying and brings to an end a first act of palatable, if unsubtle, light comedy.
Act two sees a stark change, as the play becomes a fraught courtroom drama. A baby boy has been born and Priya, who remains silent throughout, is claiming custody. Bacon changes her accent and outfit to become icy, aggressive Carrie, the lawyer who is representing Priya in the hearing presided over by Donna Berlin’s calm and rational Arabelle. Daniel represents the couple and expresses the view that the Court is treating them differently from heterosexuals in a similar situation. If this is the point that Thompson is aiming to demonstrate, the case is not made properly. The Court’s probing seems much as might be expected in any custody hearing.
Robert Hastie’s direction and James Perkins’ simple, functional set designs give the production a solid feel without tackling the play’s central problem – its inconsistencies in tone and plotting. On several occasions, characters make surprising decisions, but Thompson neither explains their actions fully nor explores their motives. Why do Daniel and Oliver both switch tracks in their attitudes to the baby and why does Priya decide to dispute custody? It seems particularly odd that the writer hardly touches upon the mother’s viewpoint at all.
Of Kith and Kin is often entertaining and, particularly in the third act, moving, as it scratches at the surface of dilemmas thrown up by modern lifestyles. However, unanswered questions chip away at the play’s credibility and leave a comedy/drama that is, ultimately, not completely satisfying.
Runs until 25 November 2017 | Image: Helen Murray