Reared – Theatre 503, London

Writer: John Fitzpatrick

Director: Sarah Davey-Hull

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Out with the old, in with the new seems to be the rather strange theme of John Fitzpatrick’s new play Rearedpremiering at Theatre 503, which deals with the Malthusian idea of surplus population in one small house in suburban London. With an ageing population placing greater pressures on societal resources this is played out under one roof, but should we really be recommending the removal of our grandparents to make way for the next generation, or is Fitzpatrick joking?

Eileen and Stuart live in his mother Nora’s house, a tough Irish woman who’s given up caring what the world thinks of her. But Nora is beginning to get confused as memories from the past mingle with the present, so Eileen tries to convince a reluctant Stuart that Nora needs special care. Meanwhile, their 15-year old daughter Caitlin is pregnant, refusing to reveal the father’s name, but family secrets soon come pouring out.

Fitzpatrick’s 95-minute play has spliced together three stories that individually are quite interesting but don’t quite form a coherent whole, and the tone tends to vary wildly between serious drama and what we hope is black comedy. Nora’s story is touchingly revealed as the instances of memory loss, confusion and even aggression increase, exasperating her daughter-in-law and, as the tension builds within the family, the dramatic outcome for Caitlin seems credible if a little predictable.

Less clear are Eileen and Stuart’s motivation here, and while Stuart buries his head in the sand for much of the play, there are several moments in which the couple seem to actively wish Nora dead to access her house and her money, even reacting with deliberate leisure when they think she’s fallen. Nothing else about Rearedreally explains these reactions, and while the actors seem like they’re hiding a smirk, it’s never clear whether the audience is meant to be laughing or disgusted.

Part of the strangeness relates to Eileen’s story told in one interesting monologue in which she describes a period of postnatal depression and the consequences for baby Caitlin years before. Only, in this scene Nora is a hero, taking control and ensuring Eileen has time to recover, so why she’s simultaneously portrayed as a burden doesn’t quite make psychological sense.

The final strand involves Caitlin’s pregnancy and interactions with the unlikely father held in secret. There’s plenty of good writing here, particularly in the creation of a young woman feeling uncomfortable with her physicality but pressured to conform by her peer group. Of all the characters, Caitlin, an impressive Danielle Phillips, is one of the most credible, but later in the play Fitzgerald never explains why her parents were happy for Caitlin to be a teenage mother but think drama school is too ambitious.

The performances are all impressive, particularly Paddy Glynn as Nora who manages the transition between lucidity and confusion extremely well. As Nora recalls stories of the Irish famine, she reveals a callousness that is surprising but it’s a sympathetic and engaging performance. Shelly Atkinson’s Eileen makes the most of her monologue creating a few minutes of compassion for a rather unevenly created character, while Daniel Crossley’s Stuart is a devoted family man but has little more to do than avoid talking about his mother.

Reared feels like it should either be about three generations of motherhood and the challenges of parenting in different types of family group – with two parents, one, and with adoptive children – or the intergenerational problems of supporting a family member with dementia, but it doesn’t quite bring together its three strands to form any particular conclusion. It’s funny and dramatic in turn, but the balance tips towards darkness most often leaving the audience rather unsettled.

Runs until 28 April 2018 | Image: The Other Richard

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