Don’t be fooled by the warm domestic glow of the opening scene, readers. Chris Thompson’s new play at the Bush Theatre may begin with two gay men and a heavily pregnant woman enthusiastically Wii-Dancing in coordination to Beyonce at a baby shower, but the next 2 hours will put you through the wringer. The seemingly idyllic life of young wedding planner Oliver (Joshua Silver) and his doting older husband Daniel (James Lance) is about to implode.
Director Robert Hastie has done well with his casting. James Lance’s Daniel is a smooth silver fox with an expertly performed streak of rattling violence, and Joshua Silver balances his stage partner’s often frantic physicality to create a believable dynamic. A particular shout out should also go to Joanna Bacon, who transforms with extraordinary ease from a vulgar old lady to a bitingly acidic lawyer in the space of a few minutes.
Hastie maintains a pacy production. Frequent interruptions and truncated speech complement the sudden mood swings, but often come at the cost of clarity. Thompson’s success is in his style of storytelling; unravelling a narrative through a series of hints, references and increasingly disturbing revelations. It’s a shame that some of the richness and significance of his writing gets a little lost in delivery.
As Thompson artfully peels away the facade of domestic bliss, the audience is deliciously torn between their initial loyalties and the increasing complexity of the emerging reality. It’s this prolonged uncertainty that stands Of Kith and Kin out from the crowd of plays this winter - violence counters tenderness, affection masks resentment, love breeds disloyalty. All the while, the audience becomes more uncomfortable. We still like them as a couple. We still think they should have a baby. Don’t we?
The play’s greatest challenge is in maintaining this uncertainty to the end without leaving the audience dissatisfied. To do this, Thompson gags the most important role, Priya. His success in this is mixed. By silencing Priya for the majority of the play, the playwright can put Oliver and Daniel’s relationship at centre stage - that’s where the real story’s at. The disparate emotional landscape of two gay men born to utterly different generational prejudices creates a rich and resonant narrative of expectation and betrayal. And, in being forced to imagine (rather than be spoon fed) what Priya is thinking and feeling, the audience remains engaged. But this comes at a price. The lacuna this character’s thoughts and motives leaves at the centre of the narrative makes the ending, while extraordinarily well performed by Pandya, entirely baffling. The audience has to work just a shade too hard for the emotional payload.
That being said, this play is well worth the effort. Of Kith and Kin is at times an uncomfortable and painful thing to watch. Physical abuse and emotional resentment slowly form the quiet mouldering underside of an apparently flourishing marriage, thrown into disarray by impending parenthood and the heteronormativity of the idealised family life. But at its core, the play goes far deeper than the domestic specifics of Oliver, Daniel and Priya. It’s an exploration of that unerring instinct to protect our loved ones -- whatever the cost. So, though the timing is off and the ending weighted in inevitability, it still left us weeping like... well, like babies.
|What||Of Kith and Kin, Bush Theatre review|
|Where||Bush Theatre, 7 Uxbridge Road, London, W12 8LJ | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Shepherd's Bush Market (underground)|
18 Oct 17 – 25 Nov 17, Times vary, check online
|Price||£10 - £20|
|Website||Click here for tickets|