Writer: Carl Grose
Director: Simon Stokes
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
In the programme notes writer Carl Grose talks about being taken to United Downs as a child and how he always wanted to write about the area and the people he saw there. If you Google United Downs, the first five things that come up are: tip, dump, waste, industrial estate and banger racing. It is from these unlikely beginnings Grose brings to life this superbly entertaining evening.
From such a seemingly mundane backdrop, Grose extracts stories of hope and dreams from desperation like a conjuror. The adult Kneebone children, Slick, Dwight and Maddy, are just laying to rest the patriarch, Jedidiah Kneebone, in the grounds of the family scrap yard. It soon becomes clear that Jed has left behind some pretty big problems, and despite the huge overdue tax bill and the fact he was universally disliked, the biggest problems for Slick, Dwight and Maddy – could be Slick, Dwight and Maddy themselves.
Tales of family myths and legends, hints of insanity, questions of paternity, buried hordes of gold are all swirling around the young adults coming to terms with the loss of their father. Jedidiah certainly spun some yarns. The children barely knew what to believe and what was made up. How did their mother die? Is he really their father? Why does everyone dislike him? What is the feud with the Munroe’s? Where is the missing diary which may be able to solve their problems? How did Clint Eastwood, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley come to cross paths with the Kneebone’s? – especially if they weren’t even in Poldark or Doc Martin?
Grose expertly interweaves these strands into his highly original, complex storyline to produce a superb comedy of chaos. What makes his work even more enjoyable is the highly personal investment he has in the area. His roots are here, and he has obvious affection and respect for his home county of Cornwall and its people. It seems fitting that so much of his work starts in the southwest, and many are produced with Theatre Royal Plymouth whose Artistic Director, Simon Stokes has done so much to promote new and local talent, and who directs this production.
Shaun Jenkinson (Ennis Monroe), Callum McIntyre (Slick), Glyn Pritchard (Jed Kneebone and others), Emily Raymond (Loretta Kneebone), Hannah Traylen (Maddy), Joe Wiltshire Smith (Dwight) make up the cast of six and all deserve mention. Jenkinson and Wiltshire Smith are a brilliant hapless duo; McIntyre convincingly on the edge of breakdown; Pritchard busily flips smoothly between roles, Raymond is a superb Loopy Loretta; and a convincingly sassy Traylen tries her best to pull the family through.
The evening throughout is staged in the family junkyard. Bob Bailey’s set manages to push back the piles of junk, rusting cars, sawn through sofas, jumbles of industrial machinery and graveyard of overturned domestic appliances, all rising to the ceiling, just enough to create a space to bury Jedidiah and carry the action. Another regular collaborator, Dom Coyote, provides the sound design which adds some great musical moments to the comedy.
It is tempting to think the southwest could keep Grose all to ourselves, but sadly this production is too good to keep secret. It’s one of the most enjoyable 90 minutes of theatre this year which is a fitting tribute to both Grose and Stokes. And by the way – the other most enjoyable production this year was 49 Donkeys Hanged – also staged by the very same team. Sadly, Stokes has announced he is moving on to new projects. This final production with Grose is a master class of comic timing.
Runs until 1 December 2018 | Image: Contributed