Park Theatre, London – until 26 September 2015
It is 1959, Arthur is dead and as his family gather for the wake, there are drunken giggles to be had and secrets to be spilled. They don’t write ‘em like this any more and more’s the bloody pity, for in his debut full length play Michael Kirk together with Gemma Page has captured a slice of British social history, hinting at the incisiveness that once hallmarked the BBC’s Play For Today and which latterly Mike Leigh can occasionally capture on screen.
Kirk and Page place themselves on a literary high wire, such is the potential for melodrama and cliché that their narrative presents. However one can only assume that Kirk, who has based the play on his own experiences of growing up in the 1950’s, enjoyed(?) the most colourful of childhoods, for Hatched ‘n’ Dispatched is at all times credible and often excruciatingly funny. It is as act two unfolds that the carefully crafted text arguably suggests aspects of an English Arthur Miller, as the narrative scrapes away at both layers and years of hypocrisy and deceit, descending into an orgy of shame and humiliation.
Wendi Peters is Dorothy, Arthur’s sister in law. An overbearing matriarch and on the surface every inch a Hyacinth Bucket. But beneath her much manicured and kept-up appearance there’s a gimlet eye that sees everything, even the failings that lie closest to her heart.
Irene played by Wendy Morgan, is Arthur’s widow and Dorothy’s sister and has been (as we learn early in act one) having an affair with her sister’s husband Edward for as long as they’ve been married. The rich complexities of this most acute of sibling rivalries are finely played out by both women, with the sensitivities of their so very different pains represented on stage by the subtlest of movements and gestures. Blink and you risk missing a gem. It was not so long ago that Peters starred in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, a show famous for amongst other numbers, Sisters. That song includes the line “And lord help the sister, who comes between me and my man” In the light of this play, that lyric can take on a whole new resonance.
Peters and Morgan lead their flawless company with a masterclass in performance. Kevin McGowan turns in a brilliant Edward (who can’t even keep his hands from groping his daughter in law for chrissakes) – all trousers but no backbone. Their son Kenneth (James Wrighton) is a whoring wife-beater, whilst Danielle Flett, playing his abused wife Corinne is tragically believable as the woman who’s had one cracked-rib too many. There is brilliantly fleshed out comic relief from the allotment loving but possibly infertile Oliver (classy work from Matthew Fraser Holland) whilst his wife Madeleine (Edward’s sister, played by Vicky Binns) desperate for a child offers a beautifully nuanced take on the sexual naivetés of the time.
Diana Vickers is a treat as Irene’s young daughter Susan. Sexy, blonde and quite possibly pregnant (unplanned and by a black guy and remember this is a racially troubled Britain in the 50’s), she combines just the right combination of ‘ditzy’ with compassionate love for her mother. Vickers’ is another perfectly weighted performance.
Credit too to casting director Anne Vosser for again assembling a perfect troupe and to PJ McEvoy whose set – and it all takes place in Arthur and Irene’s Front Room – is for once an economic design that is completely justified and in context and whose costume design, including some stunning stilettos, nails the era perfectly. Most of all, further credit to Kirk for directing his own work with such measured assurance.
Hatched ‘n’ Dispatched is glorious new writing that deserves a longer life – either on a West End stage or maybe even on screen. This play is all about the gripping close up of intimate performance and agonised humanity. It is unmissable drama.
Runs until 26th September