Bush Theatre, London – until 25 November 2017
Rising playwright Chris Thompson had an intense debut with Carthage at the Finborough Theatre, written from extensive personal experience as a social worker in the young offenders’ programme. Also directed by Robert Hastie, Of Kith and Kin explores a different side to the legal and social system as it considers the parentage issue between a gay couple, either of whose sperm may have made it to an implanted third-party egg in the womb of a close friend. The genetics are complex but the play focuses more on the tug-of-love between a mother who’s already given one baby away and two dads whose motives for wanting one expose severe cracks in their relationship.
It doesn’t help that everyone’s so unlikeable – younger Oliver (Joshua Silver) is a self-centred underachieving queen with Disney fantasies, partner Daniel (James Lance) is an ex-heterosexual lawyer still pursuing the patriarchal role. Casting tilts the scales further as Lance is by far the more subtle and experienced actor. In fact, David Dawson, who played Tony Warren in The Road to Coronation Street was in the audience and I wished he’d been available to give more empathy to the character of Oliver.
This is a play of three halves – the first act is pure sitcom, but as though Terry and June shopped at Habitat: sofa, cosy couple, drinks, banter and the arrival of the mother-in-law if not from hell at least from Woolwich Arsenal to spit a few Big-Mo-ish home truths in a scene-stealing cameo of both comedy and pathos by Joanna Bacon.
Switch to a courtroom drama in which two of the characters sit mute throughout while Daniel and a ball-breaking solicitor (another firecracker performance by Bacon) go head to head in front of Donna Berlin‘s peculiar and inappropriately joky magistrate.
The emotional core is only realised in the final scene, when the characters share their true feelings, and a cleverly-drafted ending allows you to decide your own vision of their outcomes.
A lot remains unexamined – why didn’t solicitor Daniel research the legal position before the surrogacy, why does the mother have such a violent change of heart? The dialogue is authentic and naturalistic and the script bristles with dark humour. There are some fine performances and it tackles contemporary issues you won’t have seen on stage before. Recommended.
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