Jermyn Street Theatre, London – until 27 October 2018
Bathsheba Doran’s Parents’ Evening starts off in the aftermath of a fraught game of Cluedo, quality family degenerating into chaos because a father can’t lose gracefully to his daughter. Or perhaps it’s the daughter who needs to learn to dial back on the crowing. Either way, mum’s home now and she’s smoothed over the waters and there needs to be an even keel because tonight is that all-too-familiar spot check for kids – parents’ evening.
But though it is their 10-year-old who is nominally under the microscope, a shock revelation from a teacher shatters the uneasy peace. And the playing field turns into something akin to high-stakes Jenga as the couple start to tear each other apart in a risky blame game, each upping the ante in a desperate attempt to diagnose the suspected malaise. It is a deceptively slight play, one which lures you in and then is unafraid to change the rules.
Amy Marston and Peter Hamilton Dyer give us an acutely observed portrait of modern parenthood, traditional notions of family refracted through individual ambitions. She’s a ferociously hard-working lawyer on the fast track to senior partner but wants her daughter to play a more “feminine” musical instrument than the trumpet; he’s a novelist and stay-at-home dad but unafraid to dole out a smack where necessary. And above all, they’re still in love. Aren’t they?
Stella Powell-Jones’ production for the Jermyn Street Theatre benefits from an excellent set design from Charlotte Espiner that boldly delineates the world of the play, trapped in a somewhat sterile bedroom which feels like the only refuge from family life for this couple. And though it seems he’s pretty much a man-child desperate for the attention he feels has been syphoned away by his daughter, Dyer’s portrayal deepens him into something more than that.
Marston impresses as a woman of much patience, but who still has her limits, is still able to turn coldly professional when she needs. But Doran’s writing could usefully give us a little more to really convince us that this is a marriage to be invested in, to truly believe that there are real consequences if that tower of Jenga blocks tumbles. The subtleties of William Reynolds’ lighting and Yvonne Gilbert’s sound work continue a real sense of creative renaissance at this theatre though, I’m loving what they’re doing here.