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The Omission of the Family Coleman review at Ustinov Studio, Bath – ‘a wildly unorthodox comedy’

Rowan Polonski, Patrick Moy and Anne Kent in The Omission of the Family Coleman at Ustinov Studio, Bath. Photo: Simon Annand

Ustinov Studio artistic director Laurence Boswell brings down the curtain on an inventive season of UK premieres from the Americas with The Omission of the Family Coleman – a wildly unorthodox comedy by Argentinian theatremaker Claudio Tolcachir.

He’s something of a Renaissance man, recognised by the Legislature of Buenos Aires as an Outstanding Personality of Culture, and his wide-ranging background comes through strongly in both the vitality and the darkly comic dialogue of this caustic but engaging offering.

Sharply framed in a new version by UK playwright Stella Feehily, it builds its almost burlesque action around the oddball  (and at times violent) behaviour of three generations of the dysfunctional Coleman family, rotating their fractured lives around Anne Kent’s somewhat bewildered matriarchal grandmother, who wins her reward with the biggest laugh of the evening for her down-to-earth exit line.

At first, the author makes it impossible to have any rapport with the family. But when Granny ends up in hospital, their needs, their anger, their loneliness and their slowly emerging sense of responsibility make it a much more interesting play.

This is particularly well brought out by Laoisha O’Callaghan as the uncaring mother Mary; Natalie Radmall-Quirke as the seemingly detached but troubled elder daughter Veronica; and David Crowley as the angry elder son Damian.

There is a compelling performance also from Rowan Polonski as the unhinged younger son Marko, while Boswell’s direction homes in on the ferocity of proceedings, in a domestic setting by Tim Shortall that even wins a credit for the wallpaper supplier.

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Thought-provoking play from Argentina about the importance of understanding one another