King's Head Theatre
A former film star has died and after the funeral her son and daughter are hosting the mourners in another room, but the son, Luke, has taken a break from them, sitting in the dark smoking cigarette as a clock loudly strikes seven. It feels a self-consciously theatrical statement to establish noir expectations and, when he switches the lights, that there will be revelations.
Apart from a luxurious looking red leather sofa, that looks as contemporary as the characters’ costumes and mobile phones, the room is tired and out-dated, wallpaper peeling and heavily soiled, an ancient radiogram with a rack of classical LPs above it. It’s not the image of a typical film star home but perhaps this is a semiotic signing of the family’s sorry state. Or, given the 9:30PM curtain up, is it sharing a set with another production?
Luke, played by dramatist and director Cradeaux Alexander, is an edgy, rather queeny, slightly plump young man though something suggests he is older than he looks—perhaps it is his self-conscious vocabulary.
He is joined by Barbara (Helen Adie) who turns out to be an old friend of the deceased and Luke’s godmother. He recalls an occasion when at dinner he slipped his fingers up her skirt but she denies it ever happened. “I’m being very weird," he says, “I do apologise,” but that matches the situation the play presents, which includes a lesbian couple’s wedding cake which seems to be all the sustenance they have to offer guests.
Luke and his sister Laura (Ramona von Pusch) have long been at loggerheads, not least because she pinched the boyfriend he had married to help him get a Green Card. The ex-husband, Felix (Luca Pusceddu), now not with either, now turns up, a flight delay having made him miss the funeral. In one of the clock-chime blackouts that space out the evening, he has an offstage fight with Luke who is cut by broken glass. Will they be reconciled?
More revelations tell us Barbara has cancer, returning now after a period of remission, that Luke’s “Mother Dearest” died of an overdose and used to have periods of frozen blankness: “reptile moments, like a crocodile”. Laura (whom Luke says “talks in haikus” but you wouldn’t really notice) seems to have something similar and has a psychotic breakdown that von Pusch plays with banshee like abandon.
The production is a strange mix of naturalism and conscious theatricality marked by the dramatic scene breaks and it flirts with some very serious subjects: mental health, family dysfunction, jealousy, faithfulness, gay marriage, but it only gives us these people skin deep. It titillates with possibilities in its relationships but though the cast play with an energy to match the amount of (prop) Bourbon they imbibe, it leaves lacunae that need filling and a deeper investigation of its topics than its less than 90 minutes allow it.
Since it features as part of a specific Queer Festival with the “legacies of same-sex marriage” trailed as one of its topics, one expected something that would go deeper. Could this be itself a trailer for something yet to come? It makes you want to know more.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton