Award-winning playwright and novelist Nigel Williams wrote My Brother’s Keeper in the mid-1980s, not long after his own father had died of complications following a stroke. At the time, the play received critical acclaim, and more than 30 years later, the integrity of the play remains intact.
The action takes place in a makeshift ward of a stressed NHS hospital, where an ailing Mr Stone remains after a stroke. There is a fracture in the family unit and his sons have barely communicated for several years. Their father’s illness has brought them together but their reconciliation is fraught and Williams’ play confronts the nature of healing, both physical and spiritual.
The crux of this play lies in the resolution of a sibling rivalry that may well be too deeply entrenched to survive. The play struggles slightly to begin with, as Josh Taylor as Tony tries to engage with his ailing father, played with resonance by Andy de la Tour. The arrival of David Partridge as his conservative brother Sam alters the pace and pitch of the drama.
Craig Gilbert’s production is impeccably staged, the seeming cavernous space at the Playground needing little in the way of decor to convince us of the privations of the NHS. The only colour in this bleak ward is the cheery, pragmatic Terry, the nurse played intuitively by William Reay. Oddly, it’s a moment that also dates the play, as Kathryn Pogson’s Mrs Stone marvels at the very idea of a male nurse.