Andy Arnold revives this tale of dark family life
Polly Stenham’s dark, unflattering portrait of a deeply dysfunctional upper middle class family made London theatre goers sit up and take notice on its premiere at the Royal Court in 2007. Andy Arnold’s decision to revive the piece, transferring the action to Glasgow, is a bold one, marking a refreshing change from the kitchen sink realism that stills prevails in Scottish theatres.
At first Stenham’s play feels somewhat disjointed as it flashes back and forth between boarding school pupil and borderline sociopath Mia’s (Hollie Gordon) drugging of a fellow pupil during a botched initiation ceremony, and the grubby flat where her alcoholic mother Martha (Kathryn Howden) and 18-year-old brother Henry (James Young) indulge their destructive Oedipal relationship. Adam Wiltshire’s crowded, cluttered, split-level set complements the action of the play, which at times is so claustrophobically narrow that you’re left gasping for air, or at the very least for some reference to the world outside beyond this particular family crisis.
The scenes of dark comedy are remarkably assured, the relentless, scathing verbal abuse recalling Albee’s great critique of American white, middle class family life, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. These give way in the final scene, however, to a sympathetic portrait of human suffering, crystallised by the broken Martha whose poisonous, mutually dependent relationship with her son forms the emotional backbone of the play. Howden’s bravura performance elicits both a queasiness and a deep sympathy for the sad, emotionally controlling matriarch.
Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 24 Oct