Writer: Tim Firth
Director: Daniel Evans
Reviewer: Steve Turner
Billed as a musical, but more accurately described by writer Tim Firth as a musical play, This Is My Family tells the story of a fairly typical modern family, bordering on dysfunctional, which is almost a pre-requisite for the theatrical world these days. Thankfully the cast lift this above the ‘norm’ with a wonderful performance in the intimate surroundings of Chichester’s smaller Minerva theatre.
Thirteen-year-old Nicky wins a prize to take her family on a holiday, father Steve and mother Yvonne hardly seem to notice as Nicky announces this, trapped as they are in a word of hairbands, school shirts on washers, cycle time to the office and concerns about candles. Brother Matt is smitten with new love Rachel and when not bellowing love poems into his phone is moodily mumbling his way through the chaos as any self-respecting sixteen-year-old goth should.
Kirsty MacLaren is on sparkling form as the young prize winner Nicky, indeed she may well become a prize winner herself on the back of this performance. Central to the narrative, she more than holds her own against the more established cast, effortlessly singing her way through the story as her parents, brother, aunt and grandmother all talk around her. Confident when alone on stage, understated and believable as the thirteen-year-old schoolgirl we will surely hear more of her.
Throughout the play there is a theme of one character singing whilst the other characters talk through their daily lives, what could be a confusing melange of voices is carefully avoided with some great timing and crystal clear diction from all involved. Well, apart from the deliberately mumbling Scott Folan as Matt of course. Managing to avoid imbuing the character with too many clichés Folan delivers a fine surly bedroom-bound goth.
James Nesbitt as Steve, seemingly a man always out to prove himself having just turned 50, delivers a great comic performance, with expert timing and wit and even if the singing is not quite on a par with some of the rest of the cast, it’s certainly better than his rollerblading.
Clare Burt gives excellent support as Yvonne, slightly lost in her world of washing and trying to keep the family organised, she seems to be looking for a spark in her life, whilst simultaneously telling herself not to look for it. A great portrayal of a woman who wants more excitement but at the same time isn’t sure she should get it lest it disturb the status quo.
Most of the bawdier comic lines are left to Rachel Lunberg as Yvonne’s sister Sian, the sort of person that would liven up any party with a well-chosen comment or two. Her delivery of the song comparing driving a car to making love to a man had the audience roaring with laughter as did many of her other lines.
In contrast to the other characters that are all striving for change, Shelia Hancock’s May just wishes things could be as they were, slowly falling into the grip of dementia she serves to remind us that we are all mortal and that we shouldn’t wish our lives away but enjoy what we have.
Daniel Evans’ direction helps keep things moving and also avoids the work descending into a world of stereotypes by keeping things slightly understated. This is probably the secret to the success of this work as although the characters are instantly recognisable, the combined effect of skilful direction and avoidance of overacting by the cast makes it all seem so familiar and therefore in some way funnier.
As befits a musical play there are no stand-out numbers in the show, instead, the songs are mostly based around a couple of repeated melodies, that said I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the audience went home with these melodies stuck in their head so well were they played and sung.
Judging by the reaction of tonight’s audience who gave the show a standing ovation, Daniel Evans has made the perfect choice of work to open this year’s season at Chichester.
Runs until 15 June 2019 | Image: Johan Persson