Minerva Theatre, London – until 5 August 2017
“This is not only your street with only your stories.”
It’s always fascinating to get the opportunity to follow a playwright’s development in real time and so it has been with Deborah Bruce. From Godchild downstairs at the Hampstead (yes, a play written by a woman there!) to The Distance at the Orange Tree, later revived by Sheffield, and now to a Headlong co-production with Chichester, this is clearly a writer moving in the right direction.
The House They Grew Up In is a difficult play to watch though, a drama focused on reclusive siblings Daniel and Peppy whose hermit-like existence in their South-East London home sees them surrounded by the accumulated detritus of everything they’ve ever owned. The arrival of the inquisitive boy from next door, seeking refuge from his own problems, threatens the equilibrium they’ve constructed though, exposing it to severe outside scrutiny like never before.
And this is where Bruce’s writing is at its most thought-provoking, challenging society’s preconceptions of what is normal, daring us to identify the exact point at which individual freedoms could or should be curtailed by the intervention of the state. For the pair both have their difficulties – Daniel’s autistic tendencies means he can’t live alone and though she’s sacrificed much to care for him, the voices in Peppy’s head means that she’s is barely up to the challenge, if at all.
Daniel Ryan and Samantha Spiro deliver two corking performances, deeply empathetic and far less funny than this Chichester audience seemed determined to find them in all their strange rawness, full of painstakingly observed tiny details. Rudi Millard’s Ben also deserves credit too, Jeremy Herrin’s methodical direction building in intensity to an uncompromising climax. Max Jones’ design is a real star too, layer upon layer of ordered chaos full of personal history.