Presented By Colchester Theatre Group at The Headgate Theatre.
It’s good to see Colchester Theatre Group presenting a contemporary play, and Andrew Bovell’s work has become a modern classic, boosted by a tremendous original production by Frantic Assembly.
Although set in Australia, the script stipulates that the play can be performed in regional dialect, because the family dilemmas are universal. Fran and Bob are ordinary parents, working hard and in a long marriage, raising their children Mark, Ben, Pip and their youngest, Rosie. They discover their children’s secrets, and that their offspring are not as happy and settled as they thought, and the play is about change, both being on the cusp of and then committing to.
With most of the cast making their debuts, it’s fair to say that inexperience held back the company from really mining the emotional impact of the play. The script is beautifully structured, with excellent speeches, and a framing device that reveals a heart-breaking ending. It’s clear the cast have worked incredibly hard, but on the night I attended, energy was low and some of the emotional aspects didn’t play naturally. Ben Maytham, in his best role for ages, is tremendous as Mark, the son who comes out to his family as trans, then leaves home to live as his true self. This subject is handled beautifully and sensitively and performed with great nuance and is the strongest aspect of the production. Lily Chase makes a wonderfully assured debut as Fran, the mother hen worrying about everyone else, working hard and neglecting her own needs. Isabel Marsh makes another strong debut as Rosie, whose opening speech sets up the style of the play, and she hits emotional cues beautifully. Mark Rowland, Elliot McMillan and Emily McGonagle complete the cast, and perform well, although the emotional anguish of the characters doesn’t quite get there.
Director Hollie Baines has an obvious love and infinity with the play, and this comes through, although some of the direction meant actors were often blocked by other performers, and the movement is not as fluid sometimes as it could be. That said, it was good to see this challenging and heartfelt play tackled and it was an enjoyable evening at the theatre.