Jun 9, 2014 Theatre
Director: Sophie Roberts, Silo Theatre Company
Loft at Q Theatre
June 7, 2014
The Sunday roast, an after-Church family feast transported across the world by British settlers: a large lump of roasted animal, drowning in fatty juices, accompanied by gravy and vegetables. Playwright Thomas Sainsbury rips apart this tradition – families bonding over the killing and eating of the beast – and puts it back together in a racy, iconoclastic 90 minutes of outrageous theatrical mayhem.
On a bare stage, back-dropped by various accoutrements for killing, two actors, Adam Gardiner and Toni Potter, bring to life a heady mix of conflicting personalities: seven members of the Giles family, plus their new farmhand, Rupert. Leanne the matriarch: pretentious, ambitious, racist and classist. Phillip, the farmer: food obsessed, health compromised by gross overweight, deciding which of his family will inherit his not insubstantial wealth.
Their children: Anthony, the only son, 32, a lazy wanker who inhabits the online world (“I haven’t been outside since broadband”, he claims). To Phillip, he’s “the biggest disappointment a man could ever have.” Courtney, a daddy’s girl, brazen and sadistic, attempting to “manage her anger” by working out and taking it out on her idiotic, unutterably vain French husband, Francois. And Diane, a self-pitying victim, ineffectually scheming to become the centre of family attention.
Diane’s daughter, Tamsin completes the family. Sexually sophisticated way beyond her 14 years, she’s the only one possessing an iota of human empathy. And, of course, there’s Rupert, “plucked from poverty” by Leanne, an innocent abroad, tossed into this bizarre mix as the family prepares for the bi-monthly Sunday roast.
Beneath the comedic absurdity, Sainsbury makes some astute observations about dysfunctional family dynamics, sex, our unexamined attitudes to food – the violence unpinning its acquisition – and the sacred cow of the traditional Sunday roast. Leanne says, “It’s the natural order: we eat them, they don’t feel pain.” Tamsin’s half-hearted attempt to force a change founders and she too is sucked back into the safety net of the family fold.
In Roberts’ first production as Silo’s new artistic director, the actors deliver sharply delineated, easily identifiable characters – occasionally near-caricatures. It’s a fast-paced, skilful romp, zipping along as the actors switch character with panache. The “car chase” towards the end of the play, which sees Potter and Gardiner leap from character to character with anarchic speed, is almost breathless, while the use of movable lights to define scene and character shifts is a simple and effective device.
The two-hander format is liberating and engaging – and helps keep the audience on its toes. But the choice creates limits on character development: despite their deftness, the actors do not have time to do more than provide a sketch. Perhaps it is the playwright’s intention, but it leaves a sense of “once over lightly” characterisation. Only Rupert’s predicament arouses any sympathy.
However, for Sainsbury’s excruciating coup de grâce, his final wicked comment on this strange, macabre ritual, go and see the play.
To June 28.
Photo: Malmo Photography.