Keepsake**** (Old Red Lion Theatre, 8 January 2014)

Posted: January 9, 2014 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

Staging a lively mix of well chosen revivals and interesting new work, the small theatre above the Old Red Lion pub is establishing a reputation as one of London’s brightest fringe venues. The trend continues with the World Premiere of this family drama by the American writer Gregory Beam. The location is Massachusetts and the setting is the kitchen of a home in which the father of the family has recently committed suicide. The impending funeral brings back together two step sisters. Abra has never moved far from the local area and Samara, an alcoholic, is returning from California. The family’s parents were immigrants to the United States and Moslem. The story is told in a series of confrontations between the two women, gradually revealing to the audience the history of their relationship. Whilst at the beginning Abra appears staid and sensible and Samara a reckless free spirit, perceptions of them change radically as the play progresses. The kitchen set, designed by Katie Bellman, is meticulously detailed down to the tiled floor and defines the apparent ordinariness of a working family’s life. It’s authenticity is matched by the writing and performances. Beam’s dialogue is carefully nuanced to bring out his characters’ inner feelings and laced with subtle humour. Dilek Rose (as Abra) and Lou Broadbent (as Samara) both give searing performances as two damaged and vulnerable women at loggerheads with each other, yet inextricably bound together. In flashback sequences, Rose doubles as her character’s mother and Allon Sylvain plays the father. He and James Corscadden (as Samara’s brother) make brief but effective appearances. Beam’s play embraces many, perhaps too many, sub-themes – mental health, taking responsibility for elderly relatives, culture clashes and more; as a result it occasionally gets sidetracked when we really want it to keep its focus on the two protagonists. It then builds to a slightly melodramatic climax which does not sit too well with the realistic drama that has preceded it. Nonetheless, as a study of a dysfunctional family, the play is, on the whole, sensitive and thoughtful, showing how such a family can both inflict wounds on its members and heal them. This is a small production that punches well above its weight.

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