Poignancy and lyricism in play exploring fragility of family unit
The sight of a hyper-realistic kitchen set, complete with fridge, cluttered shelves and fully functional sink usually portends an hour or two of domestic desolation of the kind favoured by the Angry Young Men of 50s/60s British drama. And when the lights come up on a woman perched behind an ironing board while her husband sits peering at his newspaper, you can’t help but recall the opening tableau of John Osbourne’s seminal work of postwar disaffection, Look Back in Anger.
Old-fashioned it may be, but the claustrophobic one-room setting is crucial to our understanding of the characters in Tim Price’s For Once, a mother (Geraldine Alexander), father (Patrick Driver) and their son, all three squeezed into this twee little room in an unremarkable West Midlands town. Written in the form of entwining monologues, the play gradually discloses each family member’s responses to a local tragedy that claimed several lives and left son Sid (Jonathan Smith) blinded in one eye.
The success of the play, which unfolds quietly and with painstaking control, lies largely in the ordinariness of this family, their everyday reminiscences punctured by moments of epiphany that are quite affecting. The fragility of the family unit and their inability to communicate with each other is made more poignant by moments of real lyricism in Price’s writing that somehow doesn’t feel out of place within the realism of the milieu. And Orla O’Loughlin, in the first outing of her work as she takes on the mantle of Traverse artistic director, coaxes a trio of fine, nuanced performances from her cast.
For Once runs at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 14 Apr.