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Buried Child

Sam Shepard
RNT Lyttelton
(2004)

Families as dysfunctional as these Illinois inbreds usually only feature in Greek tragedies. Buried Child's plot could also come from a similar source.

The wooden house full of holes in which this family lives is a clue to the residents' memories and incomplete history.

Dodge and Halie, well played by Broadway stars, M.Emmett Walsh and Elizabeth Franz, are an ageing couple who hate each other. They appear to live in fantasy worlds but on seeing their two surviving sons, Brendan Coyle's bullish ex-All American ballplayer Tilden and Sean Murray's mean, one-legged Bradley, they begin to look relatively normal.

It is soon clear that every element of the family's history and lineage is built on fantasies. When grandson, Vincent and his dippy redheaded girl, Shelley turn up, they cannot even gain recognition of their existence let alone Vincent's family link. This is because Shepard's main subjects in Buried Child are repressed memory and dark family secrets.

This is all most strange but in Matthew Warchus's production, it is also extremely funny. Buried Child is what might have happened if Tennessee Williams and Martin McDonagh had ever had the chance to collaborate.

The acting is universally good but the young couple are outstanding. Sam Troughton is an increasingly manic Vincent, eventually succeeding to the family baseball cap, while Six Feet Under star Lauren Ambrose shows real stage genius as spunky Shelley who gives as good as she gets.

The plotting may be distasteful and opaque at times but this revival is well worth a visit.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher