Writer/Director: Reuben Johnson
Music: Andrew Brock
Reviewer: Jim Gillespie
Fiddy West Productions return to The Lowry with Reuben Johnson’s exploration of the tensions affecting a single family over a traumatic 12-year period. The three act structure neatly takes the action forward in six-year steps from 2003 to 2015 in the lives of brothers Michael and Bobby, and sister Jenny.
We first meet the three siblings in the hospital waiting room, as their father fights his last battle with lung cancer, and they fight one of many battles over their inheritance. We next see them six years later arguing over the sale of their widowed and neglected mother’s home, refereed by their Uncle Keith, (an implausibly young Tom Meredith). Finally, these three unloveable offspring gather round the hospital bed of gay wastrel brother Bobby to try and manipulate the situation to their own ends.
This is a study in selfishness and sibling rivalry, whose characters have some redeeming features, but certainly too few to guarantee redemption. But they are also alluring, and attractive, in a tawdry way, particularly the foul-mouthed Bobby, whose lack of respect for social conventions and common morality is both appalling and appealing. Sister Jenny leads a more conventional life, but shares her brother’s guile and lack of concern for others – including her own family. Michael, adopted into this nest of vipers, at first seems free of the inherited immorality, but turns out to have imbibed enough of it to put his own interests clearly ahead of anyone else’s.
This seemingly morbid family saga is turned into a miniature comedy jewel by skillful characterisation and scalpel-sharp dialogue. The warring siblings are well defined and brought to vivid life by Reuben Johnson, Victoria Brittain, and Andrew Brock. They convince us that they care for neither one another or their dying parents except as potential sources of funding. The performances are strong, and sustained, despite any attempt to age the characters over the period supposedly covered by the play. Tom Meredith also deserves mention for extracting full value from his brief medical cameos and his more substantial rôle as the unlikely Uncle Keith.
The set is simple and ingenious, with a louvre blind acting as “tiring house” and furniture store. Set changes were a necessary nuisance, but efficiently executed, and the few technical touches worked well. Most notably the cooker timer “ping” that signals the end to Act Two, and undercuts the brilliantly executed fight scene between Bobby and Michael. The play called for the use of a turntable, which in turn dictated the style of other furniture in the second act, although the concession to naturalism sat at odds with much else.
Reuben Johnson not only gave a fine performance as Michael but deserves great credit for handing the funniest scene in the play to two of his colleagues. Victoria Brittain’s Jenny is persuaded to tell dissolute brother Bobby a bedtime story, updated to make it more contemporary. She opts for Aesop’s fable of The Boy who cried Wolf, relocated to a shopping mall, in which the hero cries “Paedophile”. The audience howled.
The script has a few holes, but these are minor ones, and the actors easily skate over them. This may still require some polish, but it is nevertheless a little gem.
Reviewed on 10 October 2015 | Image: Contributed