The Gathered Leaves
It’s Easter weekend in a comfortable middle-class home just before Tony Blair’s election landslide win in 1997. Members of the Pennington family are having a reunion to celebrate patriarch William’s 75th birthday.
Only there isn’t much to celebrate – the prickly old man (Clive Francis) is annoyed about the impending Tory loss and is about to tell everyone he has vascular dementia. Then there’s the return of Alice and her teenage mixed-race daughter Aurelia, neither of whom have set foot in the house since Alice became a single mum 17 years ago.
It’s a fairly conventional set up and there are the makings of an excellent play here, another hit for this vibrant venue. Despite some moving set-pieces, flashes of insight and a convincing evocation of the rhythms and timbre of family life, Andrew Keatley doesn’t entirely pull it off. For one thing he sets up too many one-on-one scenes that don’t help the play gel or take it forward.
The production values, and in particular designer James Perkins’ living-room set, are to be commended. The performances are pretty good and sometimes Keatley’s writing is very affecting. Nick Sampson is excellent as the autistic son Samuel and the tenderness between him and his brother (Alexander Hanson’s Giles) is beautifully observed.
But it doesn’t quite hang together as whole. Would the birth of Alice’s illegitimate child really lead to her father effectively disowning her in 1980? And William’s confession (to his son Giles) of a secret affair jars – its meaning and significance, like much of the play, is never quite fully resolved.
Does his wife (Jane Asher’s Olivia) know? How would she react if she did? We never find out. This is probably what an awkward and tense family weekend feels like. It just doesn’t always feel like a coherent play.
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