Water’s not so thick

The Rondo, Bath (15-18 June) THEATRE Developed via the Tobacco Factory’s ScriptSpace and the Ustinov’s Script Factory, and premiered here by Butterfly Psyche Theatre, Gill Kirk’s play delves into the absurdity, cruelty and pathological disaster zone known as ‘family life’. In an Ayckbourn-like opening, the affluent, gin-quaffing Kilpatricks are bracing themselves for son Rupert’s (Gerard Cooke) wedding to less well-heeled but aspirational Rebecca (Charlotte Ellis). That all is not right is evident from the off, as father Donald (Pavel Douglas) staggers on, covered in blood – an event which his wife Dorothy (Dee Sadler) appears to regard as little more than a minor laundry inconvenience. From here, the manipulations and counter-manipulations proliferate: Dorothy attempts to prevent the wedding by any means; Rupert’s loyalties become increasingly torn, then collapse; and skeletons start tumbling out of the cupboard before the sucker punch of a disturbing ‘reveal’.

Acutely observed and sharp as tacks, Kirk’s script is billed as a ‘dark comedy’, but while there’s plenty of wit and humour here, it’s more ‘Office’ than ‘Good Life’ in style, and if the set-up initially seems comfortably sitcom-y, that soon gives way to a much bleaker portrait of dysfunction and dependence, and a plot which builds with the relentless momentum of tragedy. Sensitively directed by Alison Farina, the four-strong cast – all on top form here –ensure that each of these variously delusional and in-denial characters comes fully to life: there may be something monstrous about Dorothy, Donald and – in his own way – Rupert but these are still recognisably human monsters, profoundly damaged as well as profoundly damaging. Sadler and Douglas submerge Dorothy and Donald’s demons beneath an authentic air of weary flippancy, Ellis convincingly holds her ground as a beacon of relative sanity while Cooke portrays Rupert as a boy-man who, like a fly that’s fallen into a jar of jam, struggles to escape his claustrophobic family. (Tom Phillips) ****

Copyright Tom Phillips 2011