This Is My Family

Tim Firth

Sheffield Theatres

Crucible Studio

From 19 June 2013 to 20 July 2013

Review by Lyn Overall

Directed by Daniel Evans, the Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres, This Is My Family has the strap line ‘Close Relatives. Dream Holiday. Total Nightmare’.

Tim Firth, perhaps best known for Our House and Calendar Girls, in this brand new musical comedy has a humorous look the vicissitudes of this family’s life. A cast of six actors and five musicians take the audience on a journey that clearly pleased and amused. The pace and energy of the piece is impressive. The cast communicates their enjoyment. It ‘s the well-timed ‘one liners’ that intersperse the songs, that get the audience laughing.

The singing from all the cast is a delight. Sondheim-like to carry the plot along, the melodies and songs reoccur, developing and changing as the story moves along. Richard Kent’s clever design makes good use of height of the Studio with the cross section of a house as the backdrop. The ‘house’ is dressed with artefacts, the detritus of family life that will be familiar to all. Through the simple use of props, a bare stage is turned into a variety of settings; chairs set by the actors make a kitchen, a sitting room, a garden and a road. This assisted by David Platter’s subtle lighting plot.

The first act revolves around the choice of holiday that thirteen-year-old Nicky wins. The second act takes the family back to the camp site where Yvonne, her mother and Steve, her father and May, his mother, first met on holiday. Family history is told through stories, retold, developed and changed as the play goes along.

Nicky (Evelyn Hoskins) provides the commentary and the continuity for much the show. Her theme song is "This is my Family". The parents have their theme songs; Steve (Bill Champion) on being forty but ‘feeling thirty’ and Yvonne (Clare Burt) of ‘smiling’ through the various things that oppress her.

Their son, Matt (Terence Keeley) does sixteen-year-olds' grunts convincingly. He sings wonderfully of discovery of love. He is dressed as a Goth. Siân Phillips is Steve’s mother May. As her memory goes, she shows the way that aging can bites. The last character Sian, Yvonne’s sister, is sex obsessed and frank about it. Rachel Lumberg plays her with gusto.

The family unit of four works well. Tim Firth has keenly observed the relationships between brother and sister, man and wife, son and father, mother and daughter. He knows how families bicker, collude and collide. He successfully uses these interactions to create laughter that is ‘with’ the characters.

By dealing with May’s story sympathetically he shows an understanding about Alzheimer’s. He shows the loss and sadness of this condition for May and the conflicted responses of other family members. The difficulty, particularly for Yvonne of dealing with mother-in-law losing it, is not shirked.

He has developed a strong comic character in Sian. Her obsession with sex, her essential kindness and her shallowness punctuate the action. However there is a tension between these characters and their stories which does not always serve the comedy well.