Thursday, 18 October 2018

Getting right to the heart of family life

THERE are various types of family drama in theatre. Some filled with bitterness, some pure comedy

THERE are various types of family drama in theatre. Some filled with bitterness, some pure comedy and occasionally something that gets to the very core of family life.

That comes when a family faces up to secrets perhaps long buried and realises they were best left buried. Giles Cole’s The Heart of Things takes us deep into family life, perhaps not as we know it.

We begin at a 40th birthday party for Ros at the family home in Norfolk. Her brother Peter arrives to be the butt of sarcasm from their widowed, wheelchair–bound father.

Meanwhile, Bob, Ros’ ex and father of her son William, tries not to get in everyone’s way as he contemplates finishing the endless task of building a boat out of matchsticks.

This is lower middle–class England. It fizzes with sharp remarks, no little humour and the opening, set in May 2004, acts as a clever and sparky prelude for what is to follow. In scene two we move forward a decade. It is just after the general election as the parties haggle for a share of power. It is Ros’ 50th.

There are analogies to politics but only because Peter is accompanied by the feisty, politically savvy, Jacqui. It is a relationship doomed to fail both within the stifling world of the family and Peter’s ongoing sexual confusion.

He is a man with a mid–life crisis and wondering how to confront it, struggling to achieve something to make him and his family proud.

Nick Waring plays Peter â?? almost inevitably a teacher â?? with no little skill, moving with ease between the humour, thinly concealed anger and bitterness and desperation to find love that overwhelm his character.

No less skilled and convincing is Ros â?? the suitably Norfolk born and bred Patience Tomlinson â?? who is a subtle mix of country bumpkin and maternal wisdom.

Ralph Watson plays the caustic, embittered father with a wicked line in put–downs, as one would expect of an actor of his talent and experience.

The play moves inexorably towards a climax that you both dread and keenly anticipate. When it arrives with Peter and Ros at full intensity it is uncomfortable. But it is riveting. To say more would be to spoil Giles’  work.

A word of praise for the talented Ollo Clark who plays Ros’s son. It is his first professional role and should herald an exciting future.

Family is at the heart of the play, some bits you may recognise, some you won’t, but what family would relish being seen as ordinary?

The Heart of Things is on at the Kenton Theatre Henley on Friday and Saturday, April 10 and 11.

Jon Ryan

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