Minerva Theatre, Chichester – until 15 June 2019
Families. We’ve all got them, for our sins, and they’re bloody hard work. But sometimes they can be a force for good. Tim Firth’s charming and warm-hearted musical This Is My Family has opened Festival 2019 at Chichester Festival Theatre and it’s impossible not to leave the show with a cheesy grin on your face.
It’s a lovely, easy-to-watch, domestic sitcom that might not be particularly original but it’s great fun, well acted and we can all relate to someone in this Sheffield household.
There’s a granny who is losing her marbles, a couple whose marriage is suffering after more than 30 years, a rebellious Goth son, an irritating 13-year-old daughter and a randy, divorced sister-in-law. What’s not to like?
I had no idea that James Nesbitt could sing, or roller-blade for that matter, but he plays 50-year-old Steve who is going through something of a mid-life crisis. It’s probably not the best time to regret lost chances and the passing of the years as his elderly mother, May, is suffering from dementia and his marriage has run out of steam.
Worse, his 17-year-old son, Matt, comes home and announces he’s married a girl in a New Age ceremony while little Nicky is bursting with news of her own which no-one seems particularly excited about.
Nicky had entered a competition, writing an essay about her family, and, to her delight, she’s won first prize. I would be ecstatic if I was told that we’d won a family holiday anywhere in the world. Yep, absolutely anywhere. She is initially over the moon but it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
So, in an act of selfless folly, she doesn’t pick New Zealand (probably wise) or the Caribbean, a European idyll or Disneyland. She decides she must bring the whole family back together with a nostalgic trip to a local campsite. Alright, it’s corny and whimsical, but stick with it.
It seems Steve and Yvonne met at the Black Rock Lake campsite, when they were both 16, when he came out with a particularly awful – though, it has to be said, highly original – pick-up line and she burst out laughing.
But over the years rows and irritations have replaced the laughter. Yvonne finds Steve irksome and a bit of a drip, they don’t talk anymore and neither do they talk to their children.
A trip away will heal the rift. Except that it’s raining, no-one can get the tent up, gran goes walkabout and their only torches are made by Steve from old cycle lamps on headbands.
This is a trip down memory lane that they all wished they hadn’t taken. Except, well, you can imagine the rest in this feelgood, fun show.
Tim Firth, the man behind Calendar Girls and The Band musicals, waves his magic wand and two hours fly by with uplifting tunes and laughter.
There are impressive turns from Nesbitt and Hancock. He looks right at home in comedy whether it is stripping off for a dip in his dire, makeshift hot-tub or translating the grunts of his monosyllabic son.
And veteran actress, Hancock, steals every scene she’s in, giving a beautifully understated, poignant and dignified turn as May struggles with her memory.
The ‘kids,’ played by Scott Folan and Kirsty MacLaren, are totally believable and MacLaren, who acts as narrator, reveals a powerful singing voice while giving a confident, central performance.
Parents, in particular, will laugh at the recognisable symptoms of the terrible teens, especially the breakdown in communication.
Firth regular, Rachel Lumberg, gives superb support, delivering bucket-loads of charm as Yvonne’s bouncy, adventurous sister, Sian.
The songs are bright and catchy but not particularly memorable – but it’s not really that sort of musical.
They’re so well integrated into the narrative that much of the dialogue, particular the thoughts and feelings of the family members, are expressed in song.
This is a captivating, funny and exuberant revival by Chichester with director, Daniel Evans, delivering a crowd-pleasing and touching show to get the summer season under way.
This Is My Family plays in the Minerva Theatre until June 15.
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