First published in The Times, Saturday August 18 2018
Over the past couple of Fringes, Max Dickins has built a reputation as a master of storytelling theatre and a shape-shifting performer. His new play is something of a departure from his previous acclaimed works, The Trunk and The Man on the Moor, not least because the writer-performer does not appear, instead bequeathing the stage to a couple of his fellow actors.
The two-hander is a ghost story, albeit not in the supernatural sense. A pair of sisters, estranged for 20 years, reunite in an America town as their father (himself a stranger to both of them) lies on his deathbed. Lily (Kate Alderton) has nursed the old man and begun the process of sorting his belongings, more out of a sense of familial duty than devotion. Sarah (Abigail Burdess), her successful yet highly strung sister, has taken time out of her frantic schedule to lend a hand. As Dad takes his final shuddering breaths in the next room, the two women reminisce, hurl recriminations back and forth and wonder whether their own connection will survive their father passing away.
Pic: Karla Gowlett
The set-up is ripe for drama, even if the relationship between these very different sisters doesn’t entirely avoid cliché. As you would expect from Dickins, a sometime stand-up comedian, the writing here is well observed, mining the potential for dark humour that arises from the terrible waiting game that is terminal illness (Sarah, at one point, coaxes Lily into the toilet to admire the enormous turd she has just passed).
Pic: Karla Gowlett
As directed by Oliver Senton, however, the production doesn’t do justice to the material. The action meanders along with little variety of pace until the latter scenes when the play’s emotional pitch shifts up a gear. The sharp script may well work wonders as a radio play but it falls flat on stage.