Ustinov Studio, Bath – until 27 April 2019
The Ustinov studio concludes its season of premieres from the Americas with a slow-burning gem from Argentina, The Omission of The Family Coleman, Claudio Tolcachir’s cult Buenos Aries hit that played for four years in Tolcachir’s kitchen-slash-theatre, now adapted and relocated to Ireland by Stella Feehilly.
If it’s a work that originally calls to mind Mrs Brown’s Boys mixed with Joe Orton and Philip Ridley, its second half deepens and stretches elegiac, ticking off the triptych of Miller, Beckett and Chekhov in a holy trinity of works it feels inspired by. It wears these influences lightly, becoming its own beast; a surrealist, dark, humanist comedy that in the end cracks your heart. It creeps up on you slowly, only as the final scenes play out so we come to realise how much affection we now have for what initially seems like caricatures.
In the heart of Dublin, in a garish floral flat, three generations of a family co-exist side by side. Mum Mary, immature and with an inability to turn off any tap into which she comes into contact with, lives with her three adult children, broken-hearted Gaby (Potter alum Evanna Lynch bringing some of the same dreamy sadness that she so imbued Luna with), pent up Damian (David Crowley) and Marko, the youngest son who struggles with multiple learning difficulties. The glue that holds this dysfunctional band together is Granny, Anne Kent bringing a sense of weary bonhomie and good sense to the matriarch overseeing a fragile familial bond.
It’s with the appearance of successful oldest daughter Veronica that the play truly comes alive. Natalie Radmall-Quirke plays the high-flyer with just the right sense of wary distrust of a family that she is only partly connected with. Her accent is non-specific, as colourless and confident as her sharp tailoring. Yet she has her own quirks, a foot that taps away as she tries to remain in control and an inflection in her voice when she loses her temper that tells us a good job and money can’t shake roots. As the family wait for her arrival at the beginning of the play she may feel like Godot, but her appearance marks a drastic veer off into different, stronger territory.
There are plenty of absurdist moments to treasure, the group coming together to sing Happy Birthday to their comatose Granny the best, and the fights, choreographed by Sam Behan are loaded with real venom and hate. As author Douglas Coupland has identified all families are psychotic and this is a family all looking to escape its death tight grip. The only ones happy with their lot are Granny and Marko, Rowan Polonski is simply terrific as the frustrating, good-hearted innocent who eventually ends up collateral damage.
Laurence Boswell seems to have a knack for discovering fascinating new gems and he directs with his customary confidence. It begins as farce, characters entering and exiting through a cacophony of door-slams, but as headache-inducing flat turns into a sleek private hospital room, he slackens the pace just slightly. I know no other director who works the symphony of a play as well as Boswell, his rhythms almost always exactly right. As bonds are broken time slows as though the characters can step off the runaway train for the first time. If the work begins with madcap oddity it ends with pathos, pain, and a chink of light. It’s connection to The Cherry Orchard is no accident, its last scenes almost exact replica.
So, a night that touches on the classics while remaining very much its own one-off entity. It’s another beautiful little gem in a studio that constantly offers so many of them.
The Omission Of The Family Coleman plays at The Ustinov Studio until the 27 April.