Gregory Beam
Free Trade Productions
Old Red Lion

Lou Broadbent and Dilek Rose Credit: Nicolai Kornum
Dilek Rose Credit: Nicolai Kornum
Dilek Rose and James Corscadden Credit: Nicolai Kornum

Keepsake at the Old Red Lion is a hard-hitting family drama about two sisters who return to their childhood home after their father’s suicide. It also marks the London débuts of American playwright Gregory Beam and Free Trade Productions.

The action takes place in modern-day Massachusetts in the kitchen of Abra (Dilek Rose) and Samara’s (Lou Broadbent) childhood home—Katie Bellman’s wonderfully-detailed set frames the action perfectly.

Beam’s script slowly unravels enough about the dark family secrets to maintain the audience’s interest as it reaches its inevitable climax and there are clever crossovers of past and present stories.

There is an intense realism to Beam’s work as he successfully captures a dysfunctional family with highly-believable characters. He doesn’t shy away from gritty action or harsh realities, and has produced a sort of middle-class American play reminiscent of the kitchen-sink dramas of 50s and 60s Britain.

Sean Martin does particularly well to bring this realism across in this finely-directed production. He conveys a whole host of issues including mental illness and alcoholism as well as an assessment of conventional family structures and cultural difference.

The cast work well together with competent and emotional performances from Rose and Broadbent. However, it must be said that their American accents are perhaps not as strong as they should be and there is a lack in depth in their difficult characters. James Corscadden is brilliant as the troublesome brother Danny and provides a great sub-plot for the piece.

There maybe some melodramatic moments that lose the subtlety of the first act, but this is an intensely realistic and watchable play that I hope has a long life (perhaps with a different cast).

For me, though, Keepsake marked something important in modern theatre. Although some of the characters are Muslim (albeit apathetic), the play itself is not about being a Muslim. It’s more about a family who happen to (loosely) follow Islam. This, I feel, is a step forward in the representation of minority groups on stage.

Much like in debbie tucker green’s outstanding nut at The Shed (one of the most incredible plays I’ve seen in a long time) where the characters are black, the play has absolutely nothing to do with race.

This can further be seen in Lucy Kerbel’s recent book 100 Great Plays For Women. The plays picked by Kerbel aren’t plays dealing with female issues, but instead are just—like the title says—great plays that have great parts for women.

It feels as if a change is afoot and the tide of plays involving predominantly white males seems to be ebbing—thankfully.

Reviewer: Sean Brooks

Are you sure?