First published in The Times, Friday November 13 2015
The dark comic tone of Anita Vettesse’s play is established early. “What’s in the shoebox?” asks Kay (Hannah Donaldson) of her mother, Anne (Anne Lacey). “Your dad,” comes the reply, without so much as a shrug of regret.
The premise of this debut from Vettesse may be familiar, but it is revitalised in Gethin Evans’s production by the keenness of the writing and a trio of fine, complementary performances. Donaldson, Lacey and Stephen McCole portray the surviving members of a disunited clan, who have gathered in the back room of the family pub to bid a not-so-fond farewell to newly deceased patriarch, Joe. While Anne sees a rare chance to gather her offspring around her, the kids have less honourable reasons for attending.
Kay, who has a history of financial struggles, is heavily in debt thanks to the failure of her latest business venture: a clinic offering dubious alternative therapies. Tom, the brains of the family, who has spent years doing good works in Africa, needs money to set up home with his new wife. In their heads both progeny have already spent their inheritance several times over, but Anne – who has experienced a later-in-life epiphany while waiting to collect Tom at the airport – now has other plans for the cash.
Pic: Leslie Black
Gradually, and with admirable restraint, Vettesse divulges the weaknesses and shortcomings that have driven this family apart. Barring the occasional drink-fuelled outburst, the default setting of Evans’s carefully paced production is one of simmering resentments, with the atmosphere made to crackle by the playwright’s artfully funny script, which regularly punctures any threatened solemnity with the next sharp line.
The cast proves adept at negotiating this mix of humour and discomfort, with Lacey in particular capturing the hardened stoicism of a woman who has endured plenty of disappointment but is not quite ready to give up on life.