By: Philip Gladwin
Directed by: Patric Kearns
Venue: Connaught Theatre
Date: Tuesday 15th March 2011
This just scraped a 5/10 rating, despite a host of problems. The theatre was unbelievably stuffy, the people in front of us were tall enough to block our view for most of the time, the dialogue, when we could hear it, was pretty weak, the casting of a much younger actor as the father who was meant to be in his fifties didn’t work that well, and yet I found I managed to enjoy myself enough for the 5/10 rating. Perhaps the fact that I snoozed through about twenty minutes of the first half helped. Steve tried to fill me in, but either I didn’t miss that much or the situation developed really slowly, as he wasn’t able to add a lot.
The set was fairly simple. To the left, the patio area of a house. Round the back, a picket fence with central gate. There were three loungers in front of the patio, and a bench on the right. Leafless branches hung from above suggested a country garden. The costumes were modern.
The characters on stage at the start were a father and his two children, a son and a daughter. With no clear age difference, it took us while to establish the relationships, but it emerged that the daughter was due to get married soon, the son was about to head off to Hong Kong to work in some new business venture, and they were spending the weekend with their father to celebrate his birthday. His business was going through a tricky patch, nothing he couldn’t handle, but he was concerned about the possibility of losing his biggest customer. They bicker a bit, but seem to be relatively happy with each other. The house and garden are fairly remote, with the nearest neighbour being two miles away. After the initial chat, they settle down for some serious sunbathing.
At this point, another character appears by the fence on the right, a young man. He looks at the family, then walks round to the gate at the back, and enters very quietly. He picks up some pebbles and throws one at the girl, who tells her brother to lay off. After another pebble, she looks round, and sees the stranger. The father recognises him as Callum, who’s being working on the garden, and he invites him to stay a while.
This is where I started to have problems with the performance. The young man was talking, but I couldn’t make out a word. After quite a while I managed to get that he was speaking with a Scouse accent, although the dialogue describes it as a bit Manchester, a bit Scottish, a bit of everything. It certainly wasn’t that mixed, but it was so strong I often had problem with Callum’s dialogue in the first half, although I did find it easier to follow in the second half. He starts to spin a story for the family, about his hard life, etc. (I confess I didn’t hear it all), and then when the son and father are off stage getting drinks, he seduces the daughter into giving him a snog – very weird. The father and son are appalled at this – she is going to be married after all – but before Callum leaves, he shows the father a ‘present’ he’s brought him, a silver bracelet with an inscription inside which the father recognises. After all, he gave Callum’s mother the bracelet many years ago during their affair, an affair which produced Callum. So with Callum being revealed as a newcomer to the family, the situation changes a bit. Still creepy, but the father wants to include Callum so they all make a bit of an effort. Unfortunately, Callum has other ideas.
This is where I snoozed, and when I came to the son was confessing that his business deal involved taking his father’s best customer from him, after Callum exposed his calls to ‘Mike’ as actually being to ’Steve’, the father’s friend and ex-best customer. The daughter had already been outed as a slut, who regularly cheated on her boyfriends with other men. She’d apparently decided not to marry James, her fiancé, as she realises it wouldn’t be fair on him. The father was coming in for a bit of stick as well, given that he’d admitted cheating on his wife. His son’s complaints were that the father had never involved him in the business, so that he’d had to make his own way, so his dad deserved what he got.
All of this is bad enough, but things get worse when the father tries to eject Callum again. He draws a gun out of his rucksack, and threatens them all with it. Curtain. At the start of the second half, they’re all still in the garden, and Callum’s plan begins to get going. He wants to know why the father chose to stay with his wife and children instead of leaving them to be with the woman he loved, Callum’s mother, and of course, Callum himself. His mother apparently went a bit batty after her rejection, although she never said a bad word about the father. She kept moving around, giving Callum a difficult upbringing, not to mention a whole heap of resentment, and was also dead now. The father explains that it was seeing his two children, the son aged about four holding his new baby sister, that made him decide to stay with his wife. He claims it was a terribly hard decision to make, and goes on a bit about how much he suffered, but basically he chose his two legitimate children over his lover and their son. He also managed to tell his lover he was leaving her shortly before she was due to give birth – there’s tact for you.
So now for Callum’s revenge. Getting them all to handcuff themselves to the bench, he tries to force the father to choose which of these two children he will choose to live, and which to die. He then heads off into the house to get some brandy, giving the father about twenty minutes to make his mind up. This allows the family to each have their say, the daughter all repentant and snivelling, the son brash and unrepentant. When Callum returns, he threatens them all with the gun, and finally the father tells him to shoot the son. This is what Callum wants to hear; he’s not going to shoot anyone, in fact he gives them the keys so they can unlock themselves. The father tackles him, kicks him while he’s down, then takes the gun and makes as if to shoot him. But the father has been counting the bullets, and knows there’s none left. Callum doesn’t, which tells the father he wasn’t much good as a soldier, probably why he was thrown out of the army. However, the damage is done, as the son isn’t too happy with the father’s choice. He leaves with the daughter, and Callum gloats that he’s won. The final tableau has the father and Callum alone on stage, with father moving from his knees into a sitting position.
This was all very well, but the questions remain. How did Callum know about all the family secrets? He obviously knew about the father’s affair as he was a direct result, but the son’s business dealings? The daughter’s affairs? And how did he know who his father was? We have to assume his mother told him, but it’s not clear. There were other problems with the plot, but overall it kept me watching with a reasonable amount of interest. We both felt the piece could have done with a lot of cutting, and might have done better as TV piece with a stronger cast. Still, the audience was fuller than last time, and the applause was good, which is important when the future of the Connaught is in the balance.
© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me