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This Is My Family – New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Writer: Tim Firth

Director: Daniel Evans

Musical Director: Caroline Humphris

Reviewer: Glen Pearce

 

You can’t choose your family the saying goes but, for Tim Firth, the family makes the perfect subject for a musical. In doing so he turns the everyday into what may just be one of the finest new British musicals for many a year.

The plot is deceptively simple, 13 year old Nicky writes about her strange family – the father whose DIY dilemmas cause wonky shelves and bath tubs in the rockery, the grandmother whose onset of dementia means that she puts candles in light bulb fittings, the 17 year old brother who has married his girlfriend in a druidic ceremony and communicates by grunts, and the mother desperately trying to keep everything together.

As the family embarks on a camping holiday, the disparate threads come together and offer some form of closure – it’s not entirely happy families ever after and there’s no doubt the family will undergo many more arguments but then that wouldn’t be real life and it’s real life that this touching musical captures so well.

It may all seem simple but Firth weaves the threads so carefully that we are drawn into this slightly oddball family as if it was our own. And therein lies the hook, Firth draws characters and scenes with such clarity that we can all easily identify with the family. As in his previous hit Calendar Girls, Firth knows how to paint the everyday with a gallows humour that has you crying with laughter one minute before holding back a tear the next.

Under Daniel Evans’ helm, a production that could easily turn into a pastiche and caricature develops real charm and resonance, thanks in no small part to the spot-on work across the ensemble.

Bill Champion and Clare Burt have real chemistry as parents Steve and Yvonne, while Marjorie Yates is touching as May, muddling past and present in the early stages of dementia. Rachel Lumberg shows a real talent for comic delivery but her rôle of Sian is perhaps somewhat underwritten compared with the rest of the family. That comic timing is shared by Terence Keeley whose monosyllabic Goth Matt is the atypical troubled teen.

It is though Evelyn Hoskins who shines as 13 year old Nicky. Onstage for the majority of the piece, Hoskins easily avoids the trap of caricaturing the young girl, instead playing her with an honest integrity that commands attention. Vocally Hoskins shines, with the title song refrain permeating the entire score.

Firth’s score itself is a revelation for the first time musical writer, a mix of anthemic motifs mixing with almost operatic arias before reverting to comic exposition. It’s a score handled beautifully by Musical Director Caroline Humphris and her five piece band, providing soft underscoring before ramping up the energy as required.

Richard Kent’s three storey staging creates plenty of space for the company to play, while the penultimate scenes provides a moment of pure surprise and one of the coup de theatre of the year.

There’s been much talk about the demise of the new British Musical. This Is My Family more than proves the form is alive and kicking.This Is My Familywill surely live long after this short tour.

Runs until November 15 | Photo Johan Persson

Writer: Tim Firth Director: Daniel Evans Musical Director: Caroline Humphris Reviewer: Glen Pearce   You can’t choose your family the saying goes but, for Tim Firth, the family makes the perfect subject for a musical. In doing so he turns the everyday into what may just be one of the finest new British musicals for many a year. The plot is deceptively simple, 13 year old Nicky writes about her strange family - the father whose DIY dilemmas cause wonky shelves and bath tubs in the rockery, the grandmother whose onset of dementia means that she puts candles in light…

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