Bridge Theatre, London – until 26 May 2018
Grief is debilitating. The pain and emptiness can be so paralysing that the prospect of doing anything at all feels impossible. For the family in Barney Norris’ new play, they have lived in stasis for the better part of two years following the death of their patriarch. Isolated in rural Hampshire on a farm burdened with extensive debt, mum Jenny soaks herself with wine and ignores the red-topped bills. Her son Ryan, the farm’s inheritor, tries to keep things running whilst daughter Lou is a construction company receptionist longing to escape. Days pass, identical to those before. Unfortunately, much of the script matches the lack of movement of this family’s existence.
Claire Skinner cuts a poetic, reflective mother with a nasty, possessive streak that makes for an effective source of conflict, but one that appears too late. Ophelia Lovibond is an overly-patient daughter who I suspect carries extensive resentment, but never quite lets loose. Playing her brother Ryan as bumbling and repressed, Sion Daniel Young also lacks the opportunity to reveal his true feelings about the huge responsibility he now bears. Ukweli Roach is Ryan’s friend Pete that adds a necessary external pressure, though he too is emotionally truncated through much of the play.
Though this emotional stifling is undoubtedly British, Norris’ choice of tone makes for a sluggish first act and a second that, whilst much more interesting, is disconnected from the first. Even the prickly, post-interval action that results from simmering tension finally boiling over feels restrained. Norris provides some moments of profound and well-crafted dialogue, but as a whole, the script is too flat.
The characters clearly parallel those is The Glass Menagerie, but the plot doesn’t have the craft that the Williams masterpiece does. Norris’s well-made play doesn’t have enough of the gravitas or the characters’ discordance with the world around them, and there is a sense that he is trying to make a commercially pleasing work that isn’t too daring or challenging.
Though there are certainly something things to like about this production – Rae Smith’s set and some glimmering gems of dialogue – it is largely a limping story with little sense of its own scale that shies away from bold, political statements about poverty and forgotten people in modern Britain.